You all remember the TALOS, right? That big cybernetic exosuit designed to boost the physical abilities of its wearer? This is its unpowered cousin, and while it won't turn you into Captain America (regardless of how friggin awesome that would be), it is already revolutionising how America's Navy builds its battleships.
Modern shipbuilding still requires a surprising amount of old fashioned manual labour -- the least strenuous of which involved holding a 14kg+ orbital grinder at arm's length for hours on end. But that's where the Fortis comes in.
"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 press 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."
It's not so much an exosuit as it is an external full-body harness that wraps around the user's legs, torso, and arms like a person-sized erector set. It's designed to transfer the weight of the user's tool through the external structure and directly into the floor, allowing the superstructure to support the tool's weight rather than the user's muscles.
And since all it's doing is passively supporting the tool, it doesn't require any of the bulky batteries or finicky computer systems that seem to perpetually bog down the TALOS combat suit program so it's going to be available commercially in the near future.
For now though, Lockheed Martin, the suit's manufacturer, has teamed with the US Navy to field test and evaluate the technology by putting it to work at two naval shipyards -- Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Virginia and at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Washington state. There it will help construct the next generation of American warships before the technology is finalised and put into commercial production. There's no word yet on when that may be, but you can bet it will be before the TALOS ever gets out of the lab. [gCapt - Washington Post - Naval Today - Lockheed Martin]