While it may not be a full suit of high-tech gadgetry like Iron Man dons, the US Navy is set to test exoskeletons from Lockheed Martin. In the first contract to employs the company’s strength-boosting garb for industrial use, two FORTIS exoskeletons will help carry heavy loads for the trial period. The lightweight unpowered option lends endurance by using the ground to help bear the mass. During the testing phase, the company hopes to further develop the tech for use at Navy shipyards where a smattering of heavy tools are needed for maintenance. “By wearing the FORTIS exoskeleton, operators can hold the weight of those heavy tools for extended periods of time with reduced fatigue,” said Adam Mill, director of new initiatives at Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control.
The movie “Iron Man” popularized the idea of a futuristic warfighter waging battle in a exoskeleton. The Defense Department recently procured two from Bethesda-based contractor Lockheed Martin for far more prosaic missions. The lightweight, load-bearing exoskeletons will be used to assist the Navy’s ship maintenance crew in performing tasks that require heavy lifting. Lockheed has developed two exoskeleton suits, and the contract is to test and evaluate them, the company said. The suits will be tested on both coasts – one at Virginia’s own Norfolk Naval Shipyard and the other at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in the state of Washington. “Ship maintenance often requires use of heavy tools, such as grinders, riveters or sandblasters,” Adam Miller, director of new initiatives at Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control, said. “By wearing the Fortis exoskeleton, operators can hold the weight of those heavy tools for extended periods of time with reduced fatigue.” The Fortis exoskeleton, pictured below, resembles a motion-capture suit or a watered-down Iron Man costume. It can adapt to different heights and body-types, Lockheed says, and wearers can lift up to 36 pounds. Miller said the name ‘Fortis’ was taken from the Latin word for strength and endurance.