Hot New Gear: Melbourne Designer Invents Exoskeleton Suit that will Turn Firefighters into Super Heroes

Firefighters always have to be in great shape, but a new and very unique invention will give them even more superhuman powers, making them super heroes in every right.

Ken Chen, a designer based in Melbourne, Australia, and a graduate of the Master of Industrial Design Program at Monash University, has developed an AFA (Advanced Firefighting Apparatus) Exoskeleton Suit that will greatly enhance a firefighter’s ability to walk, run and carry more.

Ken Chen, a designer based in Melbourne, Australia, has developed an AFA (Advanced Firefighting Apparatus) Exoskeleton Suit.Ken Chen, a designer based in Melbourne, Australia, has developed an AFA (Advanced Firefighting Apparatus) Exoskeleton Suit.

This innovative suit will allow firefighters to lift heavy gear up and down flights of stairs during fires more easily, while at the same time rescuing and carrying people out of houses, apartment buildings and skyscrapers.

A variety of devices can be attached to the suit, like an oxygen tank, a high pressure water hose, and specialized holsters for tools.

The exoskeleton suit will increase performance in walking, running and carrying up to 91 kg while high-rise firefighting.The exoskeleton suit will increase performance in walking, running and carrying up to 91 kg while high-rise firefighting.

“Two years ago I read a report that said a fire engulfed a high-rise building and killed over 50 people in Shanghai,” says Chen during an interview.

“I did not expect that a 28-storey tenders a huge challenge to modern firefighting. And that led me to undertake this project. Imagine climbing 30 storeys of stairs while wearing 30 pounds of fire gear. That's the reality for many high-rise firefighters. The AFA powered exoskeleton suit will give them a little help.”

He adds, “The exoskeleton suit will increase performance in walking, running and carrying up to 91 kg while high-rise firefighting. The device transfers its weight load directly to the ground, so firefighters don’t bear the weight.”

Chen’s invention weighs around 50 pounds and will help a firefighter carry more weight – up to 200 pounds.

“In my research, I found that high-rise buildings can hold thousands of people well above the reach of fire department aerial devices, and once the fire is above the operational reach of ladders or elevating platforms, the chance of rescuing victims is nearly zero,” he says. “This means the only viable way of rescue for firefighters is the stairs. I wanted to utilize an existing or near-future technology to increase firefighters’ walking and carrying abilities.”

The AFA Exoskeleton Suit, which is strapped over a firefighter’s attire, will be powered by a lithium battery.The AFA Exoskeleton Suit, which is strapped over a firefighter’s attire, will be powered by a lithium battery.

The AFA Exoskeleton Suit, which is strapped over a firefighter’s attire, will be powered by a lithium battery. The battery lasts for two hours. The suit is also equipped with sensor units and 10 actuator units in each of its joints – all of which sync to a small-main-control-computer in the main frame at the waist.

“According to my research, there are no other firefighting exoskeleton concepts in development — I got the inspiration from military exoskeletons designed by the U.S. Army,” says Chen.

 "Each year, an estimated 15,500 high-rise structure fires cause 60 civilian deaths, 930 injuries, and $252 million in property loss," adds Chen. 

Chen’s invention just won Gold at the Melbourne Design Awards.

It is anticipated that fire departments around the world will utilize the AFA Exoskeleton Suit in the next decade.