Mr. Dale Ormond, Principal Director Research, in the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense -Research, and Engineering (OUSD R&E) and Mr. Doug Tamilio, Technical Director, US Army Natick Soldier RD&E Center (NSRDEC) sponsored a “DoD Exoskeleton Technical Interchange Meeting” hosted at the NSRDEC facility in Massachusetts. The purpose of the meeting was to gather elite actors, innovators and stakeholders from Industry and Academia to update and educate key DoD decision makers and program managers on two primary topics of interest: “state of the market” and “state of the academia.”
Opening on April 25th, the two-day Interchange featured local and national participant panelists, uniformed members and civilian program management leaders. Mr. Ormond, and Tamilio were joined by BG Vincent Malone to encourage the exo-hungry audience to “think creatively and innovatively” in the quest for the ultimate dynamic and disruptive capabilities to meet the Chief of Staff Army’s priorities. The driver for exoskeletons is not solely the challenge issued by Gen Milley in August 2017, but a DoD-wide search for capabilities that will improve service member’s operational effectiveness, quality of life… and where needed, rehabilitation and recovery for hundreds of uniformed members and their families deserving of improved mobility, reduced pain, faster recovery from injury or simply improving everyday activities – sports, work or home. The forum was meant as a provocative and educational meeting. The meeting outcomes (one in many more of its kind) are being used to carve a targeted Exoskeleton Plan, and support a timely, relevant, robust, and much-needed S&T and fielding investment strategy.
Mr. August Cole, Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council launched the 2 days with an enterprising discussion on engineering, science, sci-fi and “the art of the impossible made possible:” “Skeleton Crew: What Sci-Fi Heroes and Villains Reveal About the Future of Exoskeletons.” Mr. Cole reflected on the wealth of information that should be harvested from the diasporic “FICINT” (Sci-Fi Intelligence) community, their culture, trends and case studies. He stated that we owe much of the exoskeleton impetus to Hollywood, Marvel and DC comics encouraging the audience to extrapolate and use it’s imaginative resources to push the “what we know today” into “what we can only imagine made real” tomorrow.
Familiar WearRAcon 2018 faces from industry reminded us that Exos are HERE. NOW. In use. With favorable feedback from workers and serious attention from insurers and Corporate investors. Their message – where companies invest in health and wellness, there is a direct relationship to productivity and quality of life. Less downtime and certainly a connection to reducing pain. Not without caveats, but increasingly undeniable benefits that outweigh the [minimal] risks. With the market young and emerging, there is still much room to continue to explore and improve products. Consensus remained to investigate and apply the right tool for the right job. DoD recognized that it’s not a matter of when or how. It’s a matter of dedicated funding and educating, training and familiarizing consumers with physical augmentation devices. Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality are already changing how we look at warfare and peacekeeping operations. Cognitive and physical augmentation are among the next untapped technological waves with promising potential.
Day 2 focused on Academia and identifying gaps in science and technology. Where Day 1 highlighted the “here and now”, Day 2 sparked controversy and discussion. Some academics feel that the road to Exoskeletons is still unpaved and a ways to go, while others are more confident in the state of the market and exploring the “next horizon” – that spot where Exoskeletons respond organically to its wearer through the central nervous system.
The theme for both days boiled down to need for requirements and funding. Developers are ready to deliver. And open to establishing productive relationships and dialogue with the Defense community. Academics are ready to work on glaring science and technology questions. DoD components are prime to explore the uses and potential benefits of Exoskeleton technologies consistent with the Army Futures Vision, SOCOM TALOS, Shipyard Maintenance, Aircraft Cargo Loading and Unloading, Soldier Rehabilitation, and much more. Gracious hosts on the base provided transportation, logistics assistance, and professional hospitality. ASTM 48.91 made a call for the May Open Ballot Voting. Other announcements included the “by invitation only” Army focused exoskeleton roundtable in June and Army user focus groups as well as the Fall NATO Explosive Ordnance Device Working Group, hosted by Slovakia and to be held in Prague.
OUSD R&E and the cast of government representatives are eager and ready to move forward. And so are we.
Special thanks for this wonderful article submission to our guest author: Rita (Rita Gonzalez) Vazquez-Torres
Rita (Rita Gonzalez) Vazquez-Torres is a Senior Technology and Programs Strategist with 20+ years of entrepreneurial government Science and Technology Policy and leadership experience. She has served as Senior Industrial Security/Special Security for Special Programs; Business Development/Strategic Outreach Liaison and team leader. more…