The UK's Defence Science and Technology Laboratory has developed a life-sized robot known as the Porton Man to test chemical protective suits for the military.
You don't want to test protective gear on a real person. No matter how well you design it in theory, it could fail dismally in practice — and put someone's life on the line. In order to help test its protective gear against harmful chemicals, the UK's Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL) has developed a £1.1 million (AU$1.97 million) high-tech carbon-fibre robot to be the chemical test dummy.
Made of hard-wearing, lightweight carbon fibre, The Porton Man is named after the location of the DSTL laboratory, Porton Down, the only place in the world that is allowed to use chemical warfare agents to test protective gear. The Porton Man is embedded with over 200 sensors all over its body that record real-time data during tests. The sensors contain an absorbent that, after the Porton Man is dressed in the protective gear, can gauge how much chemical material is penetrating the fabric.
The Porton Man, made by Buckingham-based animatronics company i-bodi — has another advantage. The previous testing mannequin, in use since the late 90s, had very limited movement. The Porton Man can simulate running, marching, sitting, kneeling and lifting its arms — all mimicking the sorts of gestures military personnel make in the field — to stress-test the suits' construction.
"Significant advances in animatronics, material design and sensing technologies have all been incorporated into this new Porton Man mannequin," said the DSTL's Jaime Cummins. "As a result, we will be able to assess and characterise protective clothing in ways which were not previously possible. We are immensely proud to have this mannequin as part of our capability to protect against the threat posed by chemical and biological agents."