Robots are slowly becoming an integral part of our daily lives. We might not yet have Rosie from The Jetsons to meet us at the door with our slippers after a long day at work, but we do have robots that will vacuum our carpets, water our lawns, and deliver our packages. But robots can do much, much more, coming in especially handy with tasks that are too dirty or too dangerous for us real live humans. The UK Ministry of Defense is counting on one such robot, dubbed "Porton Man," to help them test new protective suits and equipment for their military.
Previously, the British used static mannequins to test out gear for their soldiers, including suits designed to protect against chemical and biological agents that you really don't want to ask humans to check for leaks. However, these mannequins weren't very realistic, meaning that testing the suits couldn't be very realistic, either. So the Ministry of Defense teamed up with i-bodi, a company specializing in robotics and animatronics for Britain’s film industry, and created something that would work better. The result was a carbon fiber animatronic robot with a full range of movement: it can march, kneel, raise its arms, and give hand signals. And even better: the robot only weighs about 30 lbs, instead of the 175 lbs of the old version.
The Ministry of Defense studied over 2,500 soldiers to create a realistic design for Porton Man, whose name comes from the location of the UK Defense Science and Technology Laboratory (in Porton Down, Wiltshire). Much of Porton Man’s construction comes from Formula 1 technology, which allowed the robot’s makers to create lightweight functional carbon composite parts. Scientists will use Porton Man for testing the next generation of chemical protective gear for soldiers, with the hope that the current cumbersome attire and equipment can be replaced with something a bit more lightweight. And stylish.