Taiwan must boost efforts to create the army of the future
The China Post news staffMainland China showed off on Saturday its latest achievements in powered exoskeleton systems, the same weekend Taiwan held the 2013 Taipei International Robot Show and two days after a cross-strait forum on robotics and automation.
September 3, 2013, 12:05 am TWN
In a story published by Jiefangjun Bao (The People's Liberation Army Daily), reporters tried on a prototype exosuit at the PLA's Nanjing General Hospital of Nanjing Military Command. A post-doctoral researcher at the hospital was quoted as saying that the “single soldier weight-bearing assistance system,” basically a wearable metal framework on the lower limbs connected to metal ring around the waist with a backpack holder, can reduce a soldier's weight burden by over 50 percent.
A PLA Daily reporter was asked to carry a 35-kilogram pack of military supplies across a mock shell crater to a trench 20 meters away using the exosuit. The reporter said he was to shoulder the weight as if it was a simple backpack and he managed to leap over the crater without much effort. Further technological advancement will allow exosuit-wearing soldiers to carry even heavier machinery and ammunition and will one day turn a normal soldier into a highly mobile and agile “iron man” armed with high firepower and comprehensive information systems, the researcher was quoted as saying.
The exosuit mentioned in the article is apparently mainland China's answer to robotic exoskeleton systems such as the HULC (Human Universal Load Carrier) made by the U.S., the Boyets-21 by Russia and Hercule by France. All three were mentioned in the report. The technology conforms to the trend of contemporary warfare focusing on a streamlined but highly modern military force. By taking away the physical burden and the entailed psychological toil, such technology protects and prolongs the operation timeframe of modern soldiers who are becoming fewer in number but are more expensive to train.
By allowing an inexperienced outsider to operate the system, the mainland Chinese military is apparently highly confident of the technology. While the timing of the report in itself does not necessarily indicate hostility toward Taiwan, its proximity to the Taipei Robot exhibition and forum (in which the topic “exoskeletons” was discussed by a Taiwanese scholar) certainly shows that whoever authorized this report had Taiwan in mind.
According to a report published on the website robotworld.org.tw run by the Precision Machinery Research & Development Center, a joint venture between the Taiwanese government and its technology industry, Taiwan has also been researching “power suits extra-skeleton” under projects funded by the official National Science Council. Targeting not only military use, Taiwanese researchers are also exploring the role of powered exoskeleton technology in health care, especially to support the infirm in an aging society.