U.S. Army Builds Arm Exoskeleton to Steady Shooters' Aim

The U.S. Army's new MAXFAS arm exoskeleton uses sensors, motors, and cables to correct involuntary movement of a shooter's hand.

You may have heard about the new bionic hand called Luke, named after the most famous of Skywalkers and his robot hand from the Star Wars movies. It seems the U.S. Army went to another movie for the inspiration behind its new mechantronic arm exoskeleton, a robotic device that actually lets the user shoot better, according to this story from Gizmodo.

Mechanical engineer Dan Baechle, who came up with the concept, was inspired by the Caterpillar exoskeleton power loader in Aliens (see video below), to build the device, which uses a combination of carbon fiber, mounted motors, cables, and algorithms working together to stabilize a shooter's arm.

Almost every shooter experiences involuntary flinches and tremors when holding a firearm steady. This becomes obvious whenever someone holds a bead on a target with a laser sight—there's a slight, but constant movement. The MAXFAS exoskeleton eliminates this movement. It functions similarly to how a Stedicam rig keeps a movie camera's image steady.

A set of motors, worn behind the wearer, pull cables attached to the arm braces. Sensors in the braces "feel" the involuntary motion of the shooter's hand and send signals to the motors to correct it.

The MAXFAS is more similar to more recent films featuring military exoskeletons like Edge of Tomorrow and Elysium, and even though the concept may have come from movies, the actual design was modeled from a robotic device used to train arm movement of stroke victims at the University of Delaware.

The Army's initial trials showed that subjects who wore MAXFAS and then performed a shooting trial experience a lessened degree of shaking, even without the device.

The MAXFAS seems to be destined for the training grounds in the immediate future, but it may not stay there for long.

"My vision is that one day, a more mature version of MAXFAS could be used to improve aim on the battlefield despite any adverse conditions," said Dan Baechle, a mechanical engineer who helped build the MAXFAS. "Soldiers need to be able to aim and shoot accurately and quickly in the chaos of the battlefield. Training with MAXFAS could improve soldiers' accuracy, and reduce current time and ammunition requirements in basic training."