U.K. DSTL develops new mannequin to test CBRN equipment

The U.K. Defence Science and Technology Laboratory recently developed a new animatronic mannequin meant to test and evaluate CBRN suits and other protective equipment.

The mannequin, which is called Porton Man, uses state-of-the-art technology to walk, sit, march, run sit, kneel and lift its arms. The latest edition of Porton Man replaces the original, which was developed in the late 1990s, Eureka Magazine reports.

While there are simple quantitative penetrative tests that can be performed on clothing to test if it can block CBRN agents, the protective outfit must be tested as a whole.

"(Penetrative tests don't) tell us how that material will perform when turned into a suit," Collin Willis, the group principal for CBR defense at DSTL Porton Down, said, according to Eureka Magazine. "For instance, it tells us nothing about the effect of movement, incident wind, seams and seals. In the 1990s, we embarked on a program to test the whole suit as an ensemble. Out of that came our early Porton Man."

When it became clear an upgrade was needed over the first edition, the DSTL put out a tender to develop a new mannequin. i-Bodi, a TV and film special effects company, won the tender, using its expertise in animatronics for the industrial and military sectors.

"The main issue was that it had to be useable - what (DSTL) wanted more than anything was a tool," Mike Franklin, the chief design engineer for i-Bodi, said, according to Eureka Magazine. "The last thing you want is to have a tool that's harder to use than the old version. So getting rid of hand tools was vital. They used to have to wheel the frame in and then winch the mannequin into place and then link it up using socket sets and spanners. And all this had to be done in 30 minutes or so in (nuclear, biological and chemical) suits in a potentially toxic environment."

Maj. Ralph Livingstone, a military advisor to the project, said even small changes to protective suits can make a big difference to the individuals who have to wear the equipment, Eureka Magazine reports.

"From the military perspective, it's the end result that counts and this gives us that," Livingstone said, according to Eureka Magazine. "A few small, but significant changes resulted in a suit that gave much more protection to the end user. It allows these scientists to get the job done as well as it can be. We're looking at the next generation of suit and that's why we need this now - to give us the knowledge to build that suit."