Researchers at Berkeley Bionics and the University of California, Berkeley, meantime, have developed two exoskeleton systems—the ExoHiker for walking and the ExoClimber for climbing. A third system will be introduced in January that combines the capabilities of the walking and climbing systems. The Defense Department is evaluating Berkeley Bionics's technology for possible military use.
Berkeley's ExoHiker is designed to help carry loads of up to 70 kilograms (around 150 pounds) during long military missions. The device can travel up to about 65 kilometers (42 miles) at an average speed of four kilometers per hour (2.5 mph) using a one-pound lithium polymer battery. With a pack-mounted solar panel, mission time is unlimited, the company says. The ExoHiker is designed to actually decrease the wearer's oxygen consumption by 15 percent. The company's ExoClimber is designed to assist in the rapid ascent of stairs and steep slopes while carrying loads up to 150 pounds. A one-pound battery enables a 185-meter (600-foot) ascent while carrying the same maximum payload weight.
"Our focus has been to make a practical machine that can be used for the Defense Department's forces," says Homayoon Kazerooni, chief scientist for Berkeley Bionics and a professor of mechanical engineering at U.C. Berkeley's Robotics Laboratory. Kazerooni adds that in the future Berkeley Bionics's technology may also be used to help patients learning to walk again after serious injuries.