Exoskeletons could soon lighten the load for US Navy shipbuilders

The unpowered FORTIS exoskeleton is designed to increase an operator's strength and endurance by transferring weight from their arms to the ground.
Written by Natalie Gagliordi, Contributor
Via Lockheed Martin

From Aliens to Avatar, Hollywood movies have long fueled the exoskeleton fantasy. In real life, the idea has come somewhat close to actual production, but the world is still leaps away from seeing fleets of machine-clad soldiers barreling down the battlefield.

But a recent partnership between Lockheed Martin and the US Navy brings a new use case to the exoskeleton fray. Lockheed has secured a contract through the National Center for Manufacturing Sciences for the US Navy to evaluate and test two FORTIS exoskeletons, which are unpowered versions of the suit that could be used to ease the strain on Navy shipbuilders.

The FORTIS exoskeleton is designed to increase an operator's strength and endurance by transferring the weight of heavy loads away from the their body and directly to the ground, sparing an operator’s muscles and allowing them to work longer with reduced overall fatigue.

"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 in a statement. "Those tools take a toll on operators due to the tools’ weight and the tight areas where they are sometimes used. By wearing the FORTIS exoskeleton, operators can hold the weight of those heavy tools for extended periods of time with reduced fatigue." 

Since the suits are not powered, they require less in terms of computerized controls and user training. It also means the super-suits are less likely to become stalled during the development and testing phase, as is the case with many of its powered counterparts.

According to an announcement from Lockheed Martin, the goal of the FORTIS project is to mature and transition exoskeleton technology to the Department of Defense industrial base and perform testing and evaluation for industrial hand-tool applications at Navy shipyards.

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