How Sarcos Defense Brings Safety and Endurance to Robotics in the Armed Forces

Jim Miller, COO, Sarcos Defense
Jim Miller, COO, Sarcos Defense

You could wait for your whole life to win an award for inventing something that lets one person safely do the work of about four people.

Fortunately, we didn’t have to wait a whole lifetime, thanks to the solid progress Sarcos Robotics and Sarcos Defense have made with the Guardian® XO® full-body, powered exoskeleton.

In July, the Guardian XO alpha exoskeleton won the 2020 Commercial Technologies for Maintenance Activities (CTMA) Technology Competition, sponsored by the National Center for Manufacturing Sciences (NCMS). The exoskeleton topped dozens of contenders as the most promising, innovative technology in maintenance and sustainment for all branches of military service.

The Guardian XO exoskeleton is the world’s first battery-powered, wearable robot that can safely lift up to 200 pounds for extended work sessions. It’s designed to augment rather than replace human labor by reducing the risk of injury and occupational safety issues. The Guardian XO exoskeleton empowers people, whether young or old, strong or weak, to accomplish physically demanding tasks without straining their bodies.

What does the CTMA award mean?

NCMS is a consortium that watches how technologies develop and capitalizes on ways to use those technologies to improve U.S. industrial competitiveness and strength. Its members help develop, demonstrate, and apply innovative technologies with less risk and lower cost.

With the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Material Readiness, NCMS sponsors commercial technologies. Its CTMA Technology Competition is a hot opportunity for entries of potential interest to the maintenance community in the armed services.

The $50,000 award will fund our participation in a one-year technology demonstration/evaluation project through the Department of Defense (DOD). The evaluation project is a big opportunity for us to get the Guardian XO robot in front of decision-makers and equipment users at operating bases and facilities. We can show personnel how the Guardian XO exoskeleton enables operators to efficiently and safely lift, push/pull, transport, and manipulate loads in structured and unstructured environments.

Tailoring commercial technology for defense applications: Sarcos Defense

Our group, Sarcos Defense, is a subsidiary of Sarcos Robotics. We look for ways to transform Sarcos commercial products like the Guardian® S remote visual inspection and surveillance robot, Guardian® GT dexterous robot, and Guardian XO exoskeleton into mission-ready solutions that meet the requirements of defense customers. That’s what led us to enter the Guardian XO robot to the CTMA Technology Competition.

We also conduct research and development on specialized defense applications. That led to the Guardian® HLS heavy-lift system, a pneumatic system for quickly and accurately lifting payloads of tens of thousands of pounds, like armored tactical vehicles. We designed this system in collaboration with the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL).

We continually find overlap between commercial applications and defense applications. For instance, whether you’re standing in a steel mill or a hangar on an Air Force base, heavy things need lifting. In either place, you’ll find plenty of components, tools, and structures that weigh as much as, or more than, the people who have to move them. In Sarcos Defense, we start with that overlap. Then we find out from the service branches how their requirements differ and work those requirements into new iterations of Sarcos products.

How can the Guardian XO exoskeleton help the branches of service?

Here are some examples of Sarcos® Guardian® products already at work in the military:

My 29 years of active duty in the U.S. Army — 25 years in Special Operations — showed me repeatedly the physical toll that maintenance and logistics exact on servicemembers. The progress Sarcos Defense has made with the armed forces in recent years showcases how our products can reduce injuries and get heavy work done more efficiently.

Next step

We’re looking forward to the evaluation portion of the project. We believe it is the most crucial aspect of the CTMA win because it will pair us up with real-world users. The evaluation will give us valuable feedback from the people doing these jobs who want to avoid injuries to their knees, back, and shoulders from lugging heavy loads.

Have a look at some of the ways servicemembers may soon be using the Guardian XO exoskeleton. And stay tuned for more wins by Sarcos Defense.