At the recent Association of the U.S. Army conference in D.C., Lockheed Martin showcased its Human Universal Load Carrier (HULC), the defense giant’s answer to Raytheon’s XOS-2 exoskeleton (the “Real Iron Man Suit”). That’s right: it’s HULC vs. Iron Man.
HULC was actually unveiled in February ’09, but with Raytheon’s XOS-2 conspicuously absent from AUSA, it was the HULC which took center stage. The two are a classic study in competing design philosophies. The XOS-2 is a full exoskeleton suit, the type we’ve seen in Aliens and Starship Troopers (the novel). All the heavy lifting appears to be done with the robotic arms.
By contrast, HULC leaves the user’s arms free. A shoulder rail, in concert with robotically-enhanced back and leg support, enables the heavy lifting. Both the XOS-2 and HULC can reportedly carry up to 200 lbs. But HULC appears more flexible—the arms are left free to tote small arms or other crucial pieces of equipment. And though Raytheon has a video of the XOS-2 kicking a soccer ball, the HULC appears more mobile. It’s a figurative knee brace vs. a suit of armor.
The differences are exemplified in the companies’ respective marketing efforts—while XOS-2 is portrayed in a garrison environment, likely a hangar or flight line, HULC is shown in the field. Ultimately, the two superheroes, er, exoskeletons may find a way to coexist. HULC may be more flexible, but for heavy lifting, you’d need to rig a harness, whereas with XOS-2, it’s plug n’ play since the arms do the lifting. A minor difference, but it may be enough to promote XOS-2 for strict, repetitive heavy lifting.
The incredible HULC could be a strong field asset. Just as “fireteams” contain one automatic rifleman, I can see each squad or platoon having a HULC-equipped soldier.