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Watch US Army test ‘third arm’ that helps soldiers hold weapons

Army Sgt. Michael Zamora uses a prototype Third Arm exoskeleton to easily aim an 18-pound M249 light machine gun during testing at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, March 14, 2018. (U.S. Army photo by Conrad Johnson)
June 08, 2018

Engineers from the U.S. Army Research Laboratory are exploring a new prototype device called the “Third Arm” that could help with a soldier’s lethality in combat.

The device, meant to relieve gear-heavy soldiers while also improving accuracy, was created in an attempt to lighten the load of heavy weaponry by evenly distributing the weight and taking the weight off the soldiers’ arms.

The Third Arm is capable of improving marksmanship, reducing arm fatigue and muscle activation, according to results from a 2017 study.

“It’s really falling into line with some of the new priorities that are coming from higher up in the Army now with the modernization effort,” Army Research Laboratory engineer Dan Baechle said in a video. “I think exoskeletons are explicitly mentioned in some of the priority documents from the Army. In the future, I hope that Third Arm, or what we learn from Third Arm, will lead to a fielded device that improves outcomes from the dismounted soldier. It improves lethality, it improves survivability.”

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Engineers are testing the device to determine if the extra 4-pound device would become cumbersome for soldiers, or if would improve lethality and utility.

“We’ve actually tested it with the M249 and M240B machines guns. The M240B weighs 27 pounds, and we were able to show that you can take the weight of that weapon completely off of the Soldiers’ arms,” Baechle said.

Soldiers who used the first version of the device complained that the device was impossible to go into prone position with. The newer version fixed the issue, and during a recent test with a soldier at the Military Operations in Urban Terrain site at Aberdeen Proving Ground, the soldier was able to go into a prone fighting position from a sprint.

“We’re using that small study to motivate a larger study this year with more soldiers taking a look at dynamics, shooting scenarios,” Baechle said. “We’re still refining the device. We’re starting to look at heavier weapons.”

“What we have right now is a very specific device, but we can learn from that device,” he added. “I hope in the future what we’ll end up with is something that will help the soldier. Whether or not it’s in the form you see today, that’s less important. Helping the soldier is what I really hope for. I think this year is really going to be a good one and an important one in showing what this device can do.”