NATICK, Mass. -- The exchange of knowledge and spirit of collaboration were in the air at the DOD Exoskeleton Technical Interchange Meeting, recently held at the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command Soldier Center, an organization dedicated to increasing the lethality and optimizing the performance of the nation's warfighters -- while working to reduce the warfighter's load.

Heavy loads can increase injuries as well as impact mobility. Exoskeletons are a potential solution to some problems related to load carriage. They are wearable devices that enable warfighters to perform physically strenuous activities, such as movement and supply handling, with greater strength, endurance and safety.

The DOD Exoskeleton Technical Interchange Meeting was hosted by Dale Ormond, principal director, Research, Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, or OUSD R&E; Douglas Tamilio, director of the Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center; and Brig. Gen. Vincent Malone, deputy commanding general of RDECOM and senior commander of the Natick Soldier Systems Center.

OUSD R&E sponsored the event, which was co-organized by OUSD R&E and NSRDEC.

"The Secretary of Defense's number one priority is increasing Soldier lethality," said Ormond. "We have so loaded up Soldiers with ammunition, food, armor, guns…We need to figure out a way to reduce that load and exoskeletons provide that opportunity."

Tamilio said that the Chief of Staff of the Army has made exoskeleton technology a top priority and noted that the meeting was a who's who of the leading experts in exoskeleton advances.

During the event, exoskeleton experts took part in presentations, panel discussions and brainstorming sessions on the needs of military users and the technologies required to best serve them.

"We want to encourage healthy debate about what is technically achievable," said Ormond. "We have to balance cost, performance and risk."

The event featured experts from numerous organizations across DOD, including the Program Executive Office Soldier, the U.S. Army Research Laboratory, the U.S. Army Research Institute for Environmental Medicine, the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command, the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, the U.S. Special Operations Command, the U.S. Marine Corps, the U.S. Air Force Air Mobility Command, the U.S. Air Force 711th Human Performance Wing and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Several universities presented at the event, including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Florida, Georgia Institute of Technology, Harvard University and the University of California, Berkeley.

Experts from industry also participated in the event.

"The warfighter load overburden problem remains," said Greg Kanagaki, an NSRDEC systems engineer, who, along with members of OUSD R&E, co-organized the event. "From the Army perspective, exoskeletons are a promising capability to address that problem, enhancing Soldier readiness and mission effectiveness. In particular, we view exoskeletons as an enabler to the Army's 'Movement & Maneuver' and 'Sustainment' operations, allowing Soldiers the capability to maintain peak performance longer."

"Putting exoskeletons on the battlefield is going to be a revolutionary change," said David Audet, branch chief, Mission Equipment and Systems Branch at NSRDEC.

---

The U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center is part of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, which has the mission to provide innovative research, development and engineering to produce capabilities that provide decisive overmatch to the Army against the complexities of the current and future operating environments in support of the joint warfighter and the nation. RDECOM is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command.