Following lab evaluation tests, Lockheed Martin's ruggedized HULC (Human Universal Load Carrier) robotic exoskeleton is now undergoing biomechanical testing at the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center in Natick, Massachusetts. The biomechanical testing will assess the effectiveness of the HULC in improving the endurance and reducing the risk of injury to soldiers by comparing the performance of soldiers carrying identical loads, both with and without the device.

The testing will measure changes in energy expended by users to assess how quickly individuals acclimatize to the system and whether there is a reduction in metabolic cost. By measuring oxygen consumption per total unit of mass, the tests will determine if there is any improvement in metabolic efficiency with subjects placed under identical load, speed, grade and duration conditions.

The HULC being tested is an un-tethered, battery-powered, hydraulic-actuated anthropomorphic exoskeleton designed to give the wearer the ability to carry loads of up to 200 lb (90.7 kg) for up to 12.4 miles (20 km) on a single battery charge over all manner of terrain. Controlled by an onboard micro-computer that ensures the exoskeleton moves in concert with the operator, the unit's design allows for deep squats, crawls and upper-body lifting with minimal human exertion.

"Our latest generation of the HULC design provides unmatched flexibility, strength and endurance," said Jim Ni, HULC program manager at Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control. "It will enable soldiers to do things they cannot do today, while helping to protect them from musculoskeletal injuries."

According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, the most prevalent service-connected disabilities stem from musculoskeletal injuries.

If the biomechanical evaluations prove successful, the ruggedized HULC system will then undergo field-testing in simulated operational environments.