The Japan Ground Self-Defense Force (JGSDF) Acquisition Technology and Logistics Agency (ATLA) have released a video of a research prototype named High Mobility Powered Exoskeleton. The video from November 2019 is the first time the public has been exposed to a Japanese military exoskeleton in this level of detail, and people were quick to react. Gunner Matthew James, owner of the Matsimus YouTube channel which regularly reviews military technology videos shared his opinions in a counter-video which is worth checking out.
High Mobility Powered Exoskeleton Research Prototype Video:
This Japanese military exoskeleton appears to be a powered hip-knee device with a remote wireless interface. Reportedly this wearable robot can nullify the weight of 30kg. The example given is that a total load of 50kg would feel as carrying only 20kg. To achieve this, the wearable frame extends to the ground, though there doesn’t appear to be any actuation at the ankle other than a “passive drive mechanism.”
Interestingly, the prototype is reported to reach a normal walking speed of 4 km/h and a running speed of 13.5 km/h, making it one of the fastest reported powered exoskeletons in the world (for those in the U.S., that is 2.5 mph walking speed and 8.3 mph running speed). The unit uses a tablet to regulate the control parameters of the wearable robot.
This prototype military exoskeleton is powered using four batteries located on the back of the user and are good for 2 hours at normal walking speed. The High Mobility Powered Exoskeleton has been tested using the ISO 13482 (Robots and robotic devices — Safety requirements for personal care robots) standard. It is also IPX5/7 waterproof compliant and IPX 5 dustproof compliant.
Matsimus – A Counter Video
Matthew James, a YouTuber with Army experience who covers military technology has published a counter video in which he questions some of the marketing language based on what is being shown:
Are Military Exoskeletons practical for Soldiers?
- The straps at the thigh will chafe: in the video, the straps have no padding (though in the shots of in-lab testing padding is visible).
- The hip motor and driver is bouncing around, hitting against the user and will likely cause irritation.
- This exoskeleton would be more applicable to gun loading or bridge-building applications. This is an interesting point as there seems to be a split in the exoskeleton community on this topic. Some developers and evaluators believe that exo technology is ready to be used for a long on foot march like a combat patrol, while others believe military exoskeletons should focus on non-active combat applications (logistics, bomb disposal, etc…).
- Questionable don and doffing time, gait, possible hindrance to entering a prone position.
- The cables are a snag hazard.
Criticism vs. Echo Chamber
Is it fair to criticize the Japanese military exoskeleton cables while not mentioning the nearly identical ones on the Onyx? On the one hand, information needs to be reported on exoskeletons objectively, on the other hand, exoskeleton videos, conferences, and articles can’t become an echo chamber for marketing materials. There is a fine line between reporting the carefully crafted marketing material by exoskeleton developers and the objective reality that military exoskeletons still have not been adopted by any military in the world.
Research Prototype of High Mobility Powered Exoskeleton, ATLA Official YouTube Channel, Nov 27, 2019, Link to Video
Are Military Exoskeletons practical for Soldiers?, Matsimus YouTube Channel, Dec 23, 2019, Link to Video
Acquisition Technology and Logistics Agency (ATLA), as accessed on Dec 29, 2019: https://www.mod.go.jp/atla/en/index.html
Great points Bobby! As you know the Army has conducted extensive user analysis on the ONYX and other systems and earlier products from Canada. There are tons of lessons learned within the Army realm, and they are starting to share their observations within the entire DoD community, who has been getting bombarded by all exo companies. I think the Army is collaborating more closely with the AF and others to share the information they have and help programs in the making set better anticipated outputs. The issues you bring up are not only ONYX issues based on your observations and your own research, its an everybody issue. You raise a lot of the issues the Army has and continue to raises to all vendors. Unfortunately, the Army data is not open source, but there will be more user feedback sharing, hopefully over the next couple of months, particularly with the Oil / Minining industries, Warehouse, Automotive Industry and others. I personally think they are all heading in a good direction. But while everyone is waiting for DoD to foot the bill, there is a lag on the type of investments industry could and should be doing. Lots of good stuff, just not where we hope everything could be. But certainly not stagnant! And very promising!