Meet the army’s latest recruit: a mannequin robot

A NEW robot mannequin that will help test the next generation of chemical and biological protective suits for the UK’s armed forces has been unveiled.
Porton Man will help test chemical suits for the armed forces. Picture: PAPorton Man will help test chemical suits for the armed forces. Picture: PA
Porton Man will help test chemical suits for the armed forces. Picture: PA

The Porton Man can walk, march, run, sit, kneel and even mimic the movement of a soldier sighting a weapon, allowing scientists to test the suits designed to protect UK personnel from chemical and biological attacks such as nerve agents like sarin.

The mannequin has been made for the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) in Porton Down, Wiltshire – where clothing systems worn by soldiers are tested against chemical warfare agents by Buckingham-based company i-bodi Technology Ltd.

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Mannequins have been used by Dstl in the past, but the new animatronic version has a raft of improvements, from a turning head, to a better range of movement and sensors all over its body, that allow scientists to carry out real-time analysis while it is being tested.

Scientists yesterday said the new creation – made using Formula One motor-racing technology – will bring another “step-change” in the way the next generation of protective clothing is designed to keep pace with future threats.

Jaime Cummins, of Dstl’s Chemical and Biological Physical Protection group, said the new Porton Man was much lighter than its predecessor – 14kg (30lb) instead of about 80kg (176lb).

The new version also sits on a rotating turntable so it can not only be tested in windy environments created by fans, but scientists can gauge what happens when the wind is coming from different directions.

Mr Cummins said: “It’s a better, more realistic test system, and we are now in a better position and better place to design and develop the next generation of CB (chemical and biological) protective suit equipment.”

The new Porton Man, costing £600,000 to design and build, was made by i-bodi Technology and draws on experience of making animatronics and robotics for films and television.

Philip Dunne MP, minister for defence equipment, support and technology, said: “This technology, designed by a British company, is enabling the UK to lead the way in this important testing.”

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