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(Note: While we do not have giant, 'Robotech-' or 'Battletech'-style walking robots, Furscape's theme DOES allow for powered exoskeletons ranging in size from small, Hybrid Assistive Limb units to four-meter-tall construction exoframes, designed to help move heavy components. Some commonly-seen exoframe models are detailed below, but, as always, if you have a design you would like to use, contact Roleplay Staff for approval. - Hagalaz))

Exoframes and exosuits can trace their roots back to powered exoskeletons first prototyped in the late Twentieth Century. They had limited mobility and usually required an external power source, such as power cables connected to an generator or building power supply.

As advances were made in fields such as powerplant design, energy storage, and embedded computing systems, these bulky exoskeletons gained increased mobility and capability for movement free of an external power source. It wasn't until advances in power cell technology occurred that smaller, compact extended-use exoframes became truly feasible.

Common Features

Most exoskeletons will have the following features:

  • A control system - an internal system for detecting, processing, and transferring operator's movements to the exoskeleton. Safety features are built-in to prevent unnatural or dangerous movements from causing injury to the operator's musculoskeletal system. Exoskeleton operator interfaces can be as simple as feedback sensors built into the straps holding the exoskeleton to the operator's body and limbs; or as complex as a specialized, sensor-laden suit, that plugs into the exoskeleton and provides feedback.
  • A power source - required for independent movement. Small exoframes will generally use power cells. For the vast majority of anthropomorphic exosuits, there are actually two prime movers, located in the lower limbs to help lower the exosuit's center of gravity. As a general rule, a prime mover will usually be an array of power cells, a powerplant that consumes fuel to provide power, or a hybrid setup that, like modern hybrid automobiles, does both.
  • Fuel storage - for powerplant-driven exosuits, this is some sort of liquid fuel, stored in 'explosion-resistant' fuel cells. Fuel cells are also generally stored in the lower limbs for anthropomorphic exosuits.
  • Actuators - for anthropomorphic exoskeletons, these actually make the limbs move, and depending on the specific model, are usually either hydraulic or electric motors, or artificial myomer. Some exoskeletons will combine actuator system types for sake of redundancy.

Exoskeleton, Exoframe, or Exosuit?

While some people will use the terms interchangeably, as a general rule, an exoframe (or exo-frame) is normally a humanoid-sized exoskeleton designed for powered assisted movement. Normally there is a minimal learning curve associated with exoframe operation, because it is designed to have a range of motion almost identical to the user's musculoskeletal system.

An exosuit is normally a large exoskeleton that completely encloses the operator, and used for industrial or other specialized applications. A steeper learning curve is involved, with the first weeks typically spent re-learning how to walk. It is still very possible to trip or fall while using an exosuit, so operators are trained in proper falling and righting techniques. Additionally, similar to learning to operate any large vehicle, exosuit operators need time to gradually adjust to the size of their vehicle and how big it 'feels'. A number of governments require exosuit operators to have a special license to operate exosuits, and to carry insurance against mishaps.

Exoframe Design

As mentioned above, exoframes are generally powered by swappable power cells that allow for up to 72 hours of continuous operation, or longer durations if the powered assist mode is turned off.

The exoframe consists of a lightweight frame with motorized joints. These frames must be custom-fitted to each individual user to prevent musculoskeletal injuries. While the hands themselves are normally left exposed, accessory modules are available that can be fitted to the distal ends of the upper limbs, allowing the wearer to handle heavy objects while eliminating risk of damage to the wearer's hands.

Attached somewhere to the exoframe is a small computerized display and control pad that, among other things, displays the estimated amount of power cell life remaining if the exoframe remains in powered assist mode. Operators who are otherwise capable of normal ambulation can switch the exoframe's controls to unassisted mode for normal movement, and the exoframe is light enough that it does not encumber the user.

Common Exoframe Examples

(Note: The Hybrid Assistive Limb and Exoskeletal Load Carrier are designed to be used as either part of character descriptions, or can be described as MUCK objects that are carried by the operator, due to their relatively lightweight designs.)

Hybrid Assistive Limb

This is a lightweight exoframe designed to assist the operator with lifting heavy objects and moving while carrying heavy loads. This exoframe is worn by strapping it to the operator's torso and limbs while it is powered down, and upon activating it, computer-controlled sensors attempt to mimic limb movements. This exoframe uses power cells to drive electric actuators. This design can, in some situations, be fitted to patients with neurological injuries to restore some amount of locomotion. In this instance, a specialized interface is involved, along with extensive therapy to train the user to walk.

Exoskeletal Load Carrier

This is a ruggedized version of the Hybrid Assistive Limb. Capable of carrying up to 100 kilograms for an extended period of time, it has a range-of-motion approaching normal bipedal humanoid, and can operate for up to 72 hours on power cells. Like the Hybrid Assistive Limb, this suit is worn by strapping it to the operator's torso and limbs. Custom accessories are available for the upper and lower limbs, such as magnetized grapplers for the feet and reinforced graspers for the hands.

Exosuit Design

Controls inside the relatively tight confines of an exosuit cockpit are usually either voice-activated or operated by switches on a chin plate. External cameras located on the exosuit's exterior feed information to a wrap-around display inside the cockpit, while the operator's head and neck movements steer the exosuit's “head”, focusing its built-in sensors to relay more detailed information - many exosuit operations instructors will describe it as comparing frontal vision to peripheral vision.

Common conventions in exosuit design include a lowered center of gravity, a 'cockpit-forward' torso that places heavier components closer to the exosuit's vertical centerline, and computer-assisted stabilization systems. Additionally, the lower limbs, while having near-normal fore-and-aft movement, are designed to have limited lateral mobility to prevent operator injury.

Common Exosuit Examples

(Note: Exosuits are intended to be used with either the MUCK's mecha system or with the composite vehicle system. Please be sure to follow the guidelines for mecha construction if you choose that option. - Hagalaz)

Seibu Kaihatsu Heavy Industries 'Stevedore' Cargo-Loading Exosuit

The design of the Stevedore has its origins in the early days of manned space travel. It is designed for handling 'breakbulk' cargo: palletized cargo, storage crates, or anything not shipped in a large bulk container. It is a bare-bones, minimalist design with large manipulator arms and weighted legs (to counterbalance against loads carried). The power source for the Stevedore varies; when used planetside, internal combustion engines or microturbines power its hydraulic systems, and in vacuum it is powered by power cell-driven hydraulic pumps.

The microgravity version of the Stevedore is equipped with RCS thrusters and electromagnets in the soles of its feet, and while its cockpit can be sealed and pressurized, it has been modified so that the operator can wear a mechanical-counterpressure skinsuit while inside, for extra protection.

Caterpillar EXO-9 Construction Exosuit

This is a ruggedized, four-meter-tall exosuit designed for use in industrial environments. It uses hydraulic actuators to control its limbs, is equipped with the standard configuration of paired master/slave upper arms, and has a sealed, air-conditioned cockpit.

The large upper slave limbs can be tipped with swappable tools such as hydraulically-powered graspers, cutters, and drills; pneumatically-driven jackhammers; and industrial welders. Generally, this exosuit is driven by internal combustion engines located in each lower leg, but for HAZMAT operations an intrinisically-safe version is available, replacing the engines with sealed powercell-driven electric motors driving non-sparking hydraulic pumps.

Akechi Motors 'Hoplite' Exosuit

The Hoplite is a law-enforcement/military-grade exosuit unit designed to provide mobility and enhanced firepower while providing protection against small-arms and light anti-material weapons fire, and is designed primarily for outdoor operations in an urban environment where heavier armored vehicles may not be appropriate. It is powered by a hybrid power cell/microturbine powerplant, carried in its legs, and capable of up to eight hours of operation, depending on activity performed. This exosuit has the standard configuration of paired master/slave upper limbs, and is EMP-hardened.

The operator controls the exosuit from inside a cockpit that can be sealed and pressurized against an external CBR environment, and in addition to the usual panoramic display, the operator also has access to a redundant helmet-mounted display. Sensors include standard visual, IR, millimeter-wave radar, audio, and a suite of CBR detection systems. The operator's body is situated in a cockpit in the front lower part of the exosuit's torso, similar to other exosuit designs.

Weapons designed to be used with the Hoplite have smart targeting systems that can be configured to either show where the point of aim is on the panoramic display, or provide a 'scoped'-style aim point for precision targeting systems. While they do not have the one-hit kill power of a tank's main gun, they are generally capable of penetrating the armor of most light armored vehicles, with a selection of armor-piercing incendiary (API), high-explosive incendiary (HEI), and high-explosive squash head (HESH) demolition rounds available.

Defensive systems include composite armor, ECM, and smoke/chaff/flare dispensers. The millimeter-wave radar system can, when in active mode, detect point-of-origin for incoming rounds, and is useful for counter-sniper operations or spotting for counter-battery fire support.

Sample descriptions of the Hoplite's interior and exterior can be found here.

exoframe.txt · Last modified: 2011/09/10 21:07 by hagalaz