New HULC Has Potential Medical Applications

Military applications of technology often accelerate the development of technologies for civilian use.  The HULC by Lockheed is a good example of technology that could be translated to help people with weak muscle response such as those with Lou Gehrig disease, etc.  This marketing copy provides a good description.

“The HULC is a completely un-tethered, hydraulic-powered anthropomorphic exoskeleton that provides users with the ability to carry loads of up to 200 lbs for extended periods of time and over all terrains. Its flexible design allows for deep squats, crawls and upper-body lifting. There is no joystick or other control mechanism. The exoskeleton senses what users want to do and where they want to go. It augments their ability, strength and endurance. An onboard micro-computer ensures the exoskeleton moves in concert with the individual. Its modularity allows for major components to be swapped out in the field. Additionally, its unique power-saving design allows the user to operate on battery power for extended missions. The HULC’s load-carrying ability works even when power is not available.”

A number of practical applications come to mind but particularly giving patients with chronic disease that cause muscle weakness such as myasthenia gravis, or the various forms of muscular dystrophy increased mobility and independence.   This would be particularly true if the technology can be extended to the arms and hands.  Although it currently looks rather utilitarian I am sure that an imaginative designer could improve the aesthetics for civilan use.  The lift capability could change the way that certain forms of repetitive manual work is performed allowing one person to do the work of two.  There is nothing about the technology that appears to be beyond typical construction techniques so mass producing the exoskeleton would not appear to be an issue.  I am sure that civilian versions of the technology used to determine the users next move are readily available.  It appears to have the ability to recapture some of the energy expended with each movement but a power source based on a very small gas or hydrogen powered generator would give it extended range much like the current hybrids.


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