TAIPEI (CNA) — Taiwan’s military is planning to spend millions of dollars to design and build its own military-use powered exoskeleton suit that is expected to begin production in 2023, according to the Defense Ministry’s budget proposal for fiscal year 2020.
The ministry’s Armaments Bureau has allocated NT$250 million (US$8.3 million) in 2020 for use in developing a powered exoskeleton system, a mechanized wearable system that gives users greater strength and endurance when performing physical tasks.
A military source told CNA that the military is hoping the high-tech suits can be used in wartime and in post-disaster rescue and relief missions, and they are expected to enter the production stage in 2023.
The source said the project expects to learn from the U.S. military’s experience in developing its own powered exoskeleton suit to increase the mobility and reduce the fatigue of its users, which could prove particularly helpful during combat or rescue missions.
The suits can provide support to users in carrying taxing loads over long distances or reduce stress on leg muscles, the source said.
Explaining the rationale behind the project, the source said only a handful of world powers, including the U.S., Japan, and Canada, are currently working on similar technology for military use, and their technology is not available at present for confidentiality reasons.
Most of the powered exoskeleton suits available on the market right now are designed for medical and industrial use only and not suitable for military purposes, giving reason to Taiwan to try to develop its own equipment.
Another key is that the suits need to be tailored to a wearer’s body size, and those made in foreign countries may not fit the regular height and weight of Taiwanese soldiers, according to the source.
The Armaments Bureau said it is now working closely with a number of private medical technology, automation and robotic companies, and a number of local universities, and the military’s top research institution, the National Chung-Shan Institute of Science and Technology (NCIST, 中山科學研究院), on the project.