Indian Defence

India’s Exoskeleton Development Project

For a long time, the human race has been looking for ways to augment its abilities, and exoskeletons were the domain of science fiction.  However, in recent times, their development has taken a more concrete shape, with various countries and institutions investing in their research and development. This article will briefly introduce exoskeletons and then focus on the Indian context. Although exoskeletons have been in use for a few years, they are yet to become mainstream. Further, an exoskeleton project being undertaken by DRDO shall be discussed.

What is an Exoskeleton?

Exoskeletons are devices that humans wear to enhance their strength and endurance. They are an external full-body device that augments a human’s physical capabilities. These gadgets are equipped with niche technologies (for example, AI) and are made from advanced materials. These materials are generally lightweight. Examples include carbon fiber and light metals. They can be used for medical purposes, such as aiding people who have suffered a spinal cord injury, or for military purposes, such as increasing the strength and stamina of soldiers. This is especially helpful for soldiers deployed in an area with extreme weather conditions.

Recently DRDO announced the development of an exoskeleton to augment the physical performance of our soldiers. The project is currently in the development stage, with trials being conducted to assess the feasibility of using exoskeletons in the armed forces. The aim is to reduce the load that soldiers have to carry, which will make their work easier and reduce fatigue and injuries. This is a significant development, as it will allow India to leapfrog the current generation of exoskeletons and develop indigenous technology that is better suited to Indian needs.

The backbone of every military organization is its personnel. In accordance with this principle, militaries have been trying to create a super soldier for quite some time now. The Germans were obsessed with this idea and experimented extensively during the Second World War. Even the United States tested on these lines during this period, much like today’s sci-fi films. These approaches were more concerned with the physical and chemical aspects of the human body.

Types of Exoskeletons

Exoskeletons are usually categorized into two types, powered and passive. Passive exoskeletons aren’t battery-powered and rely on passive elements like springs and dampeners to absorb some of the load, thus reducing the energy consumed by the soldier.

Powered exoskeletons, on the other hand, are powered by batteries and use a combination of sensors, AI, and other technologies to interface with the soldier. The electronics onboard sense the soldier’s actions and react accordingly autonomously. It can also be used to enhance the situational awareness of the soldier. The exoskeletons will integrate body armor, night vision, and communication devices, thus reducing the overall weight of the soldier’s equipment. It is expected to increase the load-carrying capacity of the soldier by an additional 100 kg and their endurance by 8 hours.

  • Russian Exoskeleton
  • Chinese Exoskeleton

What Next?

Many countries around the world are working on various forms of exoskeletons or bio-augmentative technologies. These include China, Russia, the United States, Europe, and Japan. According to some reports, China is said to have already inducted these systems into their forces and deployed soldiers equipped with such systems onto the disputed Sino-Indian Himalayan border. We must fast-track our exoskeleton project and deploy these systems as soon as possible. These systems can be game-changers for our forces on the ground.

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Kanak Agarwal

Kanak Agarwal is a second year Aeronautical Engineering student at MIT Manipal. An avid reader and a military aviation enthusiast.

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