The British are using a sensor-covered, robotic mannequin to mimic the movements of soldiers.
Porton Man – named for Porton Down in Wiltshire, home of Britain’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory, or DSTL – is designed to test the effectiveness of protective gear and equipment against chemical and biological attacks. From head to toe, more than 100 absorbent sensors are built into him.
He’s then dressed in whatever uniform or gear Britain’s Ministry of Defense is testing and exposed to various chem-bio agents, according to i-Bodi, the technology company in Buckingham, England, who designed and built him.
Unlike Atlas, a human-shaped robot being developed for the Pentagon by Boston Dynamics as a futuristic first responder, Porton Man is not designed to operate and move free from supports. He is, instead, designed to run in place, as well as squat, sit, kneel and move its arms in a multitude of ways.
Beyond being a test-bed for chem-bio agents, Porton Man’s purpose is to move about in the protective gear and equipment in the same way a human would.
“It means new equipment such as chemical and biological suits can be thoroughly tested in a realistic but secure environment,” the company says in describing the project. The sensors are able to record data during testing and scientists able to carry out analysis in real time.
Dr. Colin Willis, who heads up the chemical biological protection group at DSTL, told the BBC that “more realistic stresses” could be placed on the robot and better results concluded.
“It sounds simple, but when you see the mannequin and the computer controls, it really is a complex piece of machinery,” he told the network’s Today program.
Porton Man is built of carbon composite materials and weighs only about 30 lbs. His predecessor robot was a tank by comparison – and old-school hulk weighing in at 176 lbs.