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Military Exoskeletons and the Fight With Bureaucracy

Military Exoskeletons and the Fight With Bureaucracy

Many North American exoskeleton developers owe their beginnings to U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) investments. Yet, no military exoskeletons or wearable robots are deployed for any application. Part of this lack of technology adoption stems from the difficulties of navigating the U.S. Navy and Army bureaucracy. Hope Hodge Seck has published an excellent article on Politico titled: “The decade-long quest to deliver a modern-day target practice highlights the broken world of military acquisition.” (link).

While not about exoskeletons, the Politico article vividly describes how approved, and validated technology is still not implemented by the Army today. The main points that ring true for exoskeletons are:

  • Successful technology trials are not enough, there is a lot of red tape to clear. This can include budgeting, testing, evaluations, requirement documents, a program of records, etc…
  • There have to be sponsors that will shepherd the acquisition of the technology from within.

The Politico article is a fantastic read and highly recommended for those wondering what military exoskeletons are going through. Furthermore, it illustrates two key learnings:

  • The cost of exoskeletons is not their main adoption hurdle (the Politico article revolves around wheeled robots that are far more expensive).
  • Adopting exoskeletons for DoD will require professional help. These can be veteran professionals and/or dedicated to the proliferation of exoskeleton technology organizations.
  • It will be a community effort. Collectively, exoskeleton technology will have to prove its worth before individual producers can begin to compete against each other. At this point in time, tearing down one supplier will only undermine all exoskeleton developers.

Reference:

The decade-long quest to deliver a modern-day target practice highlights the broken world of military acquisition., HOPE HODGE SECK, Politico, Jun 23, 2022, link

2 Comments

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  • Thank you Bobby for your commentary. RIGHT on point. It is what I do, day in and day out. Unfortunately, not all professionals trying to help exoskeleton efforts are created equal:

    1) Retired military with no acquisition management support, can help with requirement definition and translating these back to producers, but do not know or understand where the funding comes from… Thus they spend their time at Ft Benning or Ft Bragg, thinking the actual users/training leads will fund or even buy exos.

    2) Retired government personnel without acquisition, budget and funding and procurements… same issue of not understanding where the funding comes from, how it flows through the process, who [the] decision-makers are. Nor do they understand how to lobby because they didn’t lobby when they were civil servants. And so on.

    Companies underestimate how the funding streams change with each new administration… both the retired military members and civil servants (unless they were either officers or high-ranking administrators) impact who has the power of the purse, and how to access it. It takes a team of people. I have had this discussion ad nauseum with many companies who attach themselves to people who want to “help” but in effect are looking at how they can monetize the product for their own benefit, and not looking first at how to help DoD as a consumer understand what these impactful and game-changing technologies can do. Some of these companies offer up investors – for a cut. And then the company is left with the same problem they had before… I wish I could teach this in College before inventors go out with their wares expecting the government to go APE over their product. And don’t get me started on Homeland Security… Vendors are “testing like crazy” with first responders THINKING DHS or someone is going to buy their stuff in quantities. It doesn’t work that way either… SIGH! It was a great article and your comments are POINT ON!

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