Military

US Army developing a "Third Arm" for soldiers

Army Sgt. Michael Zamora uses a prototype Third Arm exoskeleton to aim an 18-lb M249 light machine gun
Army Sgt. Michael Zamora uses a prototype Third Arm exoskeleton to aim an 18-lb M249 light machine gun
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Army researcher Dan Baechle (right) briefs Sgt. Michael Zamora on how to use the Third Arm exoskeleton device
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Army researcher Dan Baechle (right) briefs Sgt. Michael Zamora on how to use the Third Arm exoskeleton device
Army Sgt. Michael Zamora uses a prototype Third Arm exoskeleton to aim an 18-lb M249 light machine gun
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Army Sgt. Michael Zamora uses a prototype Third Arm exoskeleton to aim an 18-lb M249 light machine gun
Army Sgt. Michael Zamora assumes a prone fighting position using a prototype Third Arm exoskeleton device
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Army Sgt. Michael Zamora assumes a prone fighting position using a prototype Third Arm exoskeleton device

The US Army isn't just looking to giving soldiers a hand, but a whole extra arm. At the Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Maryland, the US Army Research Laboratory (ARL) is testing a prototype passive support system called Third Arm, which evenly distributes the weight of heavy weapons, allowing soldiers to use them with less fatigue and greater accuracy.

In the 1986 sci-fi classic Aliens, one of the signature props was the fictional M56 Smartgun, which was a dressed up MG42 machine gun stuck on a steadicam mount. This mount, which in reality connects a hand-held cine-camera to the operators body to stabilize it, made for some very cool action scenes and has now apparently inspired a real-life counterpart.

Mechanical engineer Dan Baechle has come up with a more advanced, more articulated, militarized version of the steadicam mount that can take the weight of a weapon off a soldier's arms. Third Arm is an unpowered, articulated frame made of composite materials that helps to distribute the weapon's weight while allowing enough range of motion to be practical on the battlefield.

Army researcher Dan Baechle (right) briefs Sgt. Michael Zamora on how to use the Third Arm exoskeleton device
Army researcher Dan Baechle (right) briefs Sgt. Michael Zamora on how to use the Third Arm exoskeleton device

"We've actually tested it with the M249 and M240B machines guns," says Baechle. "The M240B weighs 27 lb (12.2 kg), and we were able to show that you can take the weight of that weapon completely off of the soldiers' arms."

According to Baechle, the Third Arm is still in the early prototype stage and is undergoing a number of changes as feedback from users comes in. Recently, the rig was worn by a sergeant with an M4 type weapon. The latest iteration allowed him to aim the weapon with greater accuracy and dive into a prone position from a sprint.

The Third Arm is part of the Army's modernization program that includes a greater interest in exoskeletons that improve soldiers' load-bearing, shooting, movement, communications, protection, and sustainment in the field with less fatigue. Third Arm has already been subject to live-fire trials and Baechle is working to improve the design and make it capable of carrying heavier weapons.

Army Sgt. Michael Zamora assumes a prone fighting position using a prototype Third Arm exoskeleton device
Army Sgt. Michael Zamora assumes a prone fighting position using a prototype Third Arm exoskeleton device

"It falls in line with the direction that the Army wants to be heading in the future," says Baechle. "We get comments from Soldiers who tell us different things about the way it feels on their body … about the way it redistributes the load. Some like it, some give us tips about the ways it could be improved, and we're using that input to improve the device and improve the design so that it not only works well, but it also feels good."

The video below discusses the Third Arm project.

Source: US Army

Army researchers envision third arm for Soldiers

12 comments
chris gandee
Well as someone already cursed with a third arm it would only be a hinderace as the human brain learned its functionality with what we already have and extra would be like having to juggle its use instead of the natural flow provided by our existing cortex "ghost". this can be backed up by the fact that even when amputated the brain sometimes senses the appendage. which also gives credit to the body not being the whole being of a human.
thk
Add a third leg....for better performance.
Deres
The australian solution seems more simple and effective : https://cdn-images-1.medium.com/max/2000/1*lu9XekzZcXH68oLvcC3ehQ.jpeg
EZ
That's great news. We need are soldiers to be more comfortable when they wage war.
SammyC
Interesting that they went into an office somewhere and pulled one of the pudgy POGs out from behind a desk to be their next top model showing off the capabilities of the third arm. With a M4 no less... the only thing easier to sling around than a M4 is maybe a nerf gun. This thing's cool for its Space Marines turned real life aspect but it seems a little silly as is. Of course, as part of a larger move towards exoskeletons... it gets a whole lot more interesting.
Kpar
Having family in harm's way, I am grateful for the efforts to make them more effective and bringing them home in one piece. I was skeptical until I saw the soldier dive to a prone position. I'm impressed, and I look forward to the improvements as they come.
Kpar
Deres, you are quite correct about simple and effective, but this US prototype addresses some concerns about snagging and clearance. I suspect some combinations are under consideration- and the final design may look VERY different than either design...
will1948
They ripped off Aliens 2. http://78.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_ljypc1q2AN1qa1o5zo1_1280.jpg
will1948
And the Aussie thing is a rip off of a competitor to the steadicam. Name escapes me at the moment. Nothing new under the sun.
b@man
Yup, they don't have enough to carry...