In many ways the age of robotic exoskeletons is starting to become a reality. Powered exoskeletons are starting to come on the market for the medical field being used to assist in physical rehabilitation and to help nursing staff lift patients as well as trails for ones to aid search and rescue and emergency response teams.
Sadly the one area that development is seemingly starting to drop off with many projects being canceled in the last three years is exoskeletons for military use and the reason is simple; inadequate power sources. Battery power just isn't there yet. While a hospital bound suit can get away with maybe two hours of operation on a single charge or can just be plugged into the wall, military suits can't be tethered in the field and are going to need to work for at lest 24hrs if not more to be practical. Even further some powered exoskeleton development teams worry about the more explosive properties of lithium-ion batteries being a danger on the battle field. On the other hand while internal combustion engines that can power a suit for a day can be made small enough to be practical,the noise they make along with their IR signature (if not an outright fire hazard) make it them hard to use without compromising a units position in ways that non-powered infantry would not be.
Powered exoskeletons are also very expensive do to their complexity so that's not helping things either.
Now that's not to saw that powered exoskeletons are never going to happen and in fact hybrid designs that use upcoming fairly quite micro-turbine engines to recharge a suits batteries when stealth isn't needed are being looked into at the technology matures and might renew interest in the near future. But for now, powered exo's are no longer as around the corner as we might have hoped. That's not to say that these limitations have not spurred some rather interesting work around, adversity is the mother of all innovation after all!
One area that has seen some innovation is the concept do to these limitations are in the concept of a passive exoskeleton. These don't let you carry more, move faster, or make you super human, in fact you're just as slow lugging around 100lbs in a passive exoskeleton as you are without one, in fact you might be slower as you have to lug the weight of the exoskeleton as well! What they do is through the use of smart load redistribution and shunting of the force of the weight towards the ground, they greatly reduce the metabolic impact of carrying said load by around a third. In other words you can carry a given load with greater comfort, for long and with less chance of injury! And all without needing a single double A battery! I think anyone reading this who has had to lug a full combat load across bad country can see the benefits of such a system! This of course potentially makes them much cheaper do to not needing on board computers to keep the suit from killing it's user and motors to power it.
Of course being a passive system there is a limit to how much such a suit can help out so some engineers decided to split the difference between a powered and passive exoskeleton and developed the concept of the quasi or semi-passive exoskeleton. A semi-passive exoskeleton uses the same basic concept of a full passive one but uses a limited power assist to help reduce the effects of carrying a heavy load much further then a passive suit could with current prototypes have the metabolic impact of lifting loads reduced by up to 80%! This of course is going to make them more complex and expensive then full passive exo's and they are gong to need a power source but they are going to be nowhere as expensive as a full powered exoskeleton and the power drain for exo's that can support a roughly 40kg load has been brought down to a little as two watts meaning that even modern batteries can power one for the better part of a day.
All in all given the benefits I see semi-passive exoskeletons making for a good stop-gap till we can get a power source that can make powered ones more viable and given their price and low power needs. In fact do to their low cost and power needs I even see them being used to equip most military forces even well into TL 10 with powered suits still being limited to specialist roles (though still more common then in TL 9, TL 11's nano-suit might be the point where I can see cheaper down rated version being used as the stand issue military suit).
Ok, that's enough talking about them, let's see how mature TL 9+ version might work.
Semi-Passive Exoskeletons (TL 9)
Semi-passive exoskeletons use along with a effective load redistribution utilizing a rigged frame work to shunt some of the load into the ground that is further enhanced by a limited power assist. All this helps lower the metabolic impact of lugging around heavy loads by a large degree. In game terms, treat any load supported by the exoskeletons frame along with the weight of the exoskeleton as weighing 80% less when determining FP lost do to carrying said load. For example someone wearing a medium semi-passive exoskeleton while hauling a hundred pound load would be no more exhausted then if they were carrying a 24lbs load the same distane. Semi-passive exoskeletons also act as basic Load-bearing equipment (See High-Tech pg. 54).
Like the lower-body exoskeleton (Ultra-Tech pg. 181) a semi-passive exoskeleton consists of load-bearing back frame attached to a exoskeleton that goes around the hips and legs.
The full weight of both the exoskeleton and the carried load is till used to determine the other normal effects of encumbrance (Basic Set pg. 17) such as being slowed in movement speed, having a penalty to dodge, and any relevant skill penalties.
The Battlesuit skill limits both DX and DX-based skills (Basic Set pg. 192), as well as is used to don the exoskeleton which takes 18 seconds (or 3 at TL 11+ do to smart bio-plas straps). One a failed roll, the exoskeleton is still securely attached, just not in a optimum way and the metabolic effects of the load is only reduced by 2/3rds, on a failure by 5 or more or a critical failure the frame is so poorly fitted that FP lost is actually doubled instead of being reduced!
Semi-passive exoskeletons do require power to use to their full effect though they drain so little power that the often last several days on a signal power cell. They can be used unpowered but at reduced effectiveness, reduce the effective load by only 2/3rds (on a failed donning roll an unpowered frame simply acts a basic load-bearing equipment).
If attacked, semi-passive exoskeletons have HP based on their weight (see Basic Set pg. 558), HT 10 and DR 4. If rugged they have HT 12 and DR 8. Increase DR for normal semi-passive exoskeletons to 5 and the DR for rugged semi-passive exoskeletons to 10 at TL 10+.
Semi-Passive Exoskeleton, Light (TL 9): A light semi-passive exoskeleton designed for the to be used by industrial workers as well as the civilian outdoors market. Holds 30lbs. $1,500, 6.3lbs, 1B/35hrs. LC 4.
Semi-Passive Exoskeleton, Medium (TL 9): A heavier and ruggedized (see Ultra-Tech pg. 15) version of the light exoskeleton designed for heavy industrial, search and rescue, and fire fighting use. Holds 80lbs. $4,800, 20lbs, 1C/130hrs. LC 4.
Semi-Passive Exoskeleton, Heavy (TL 9): Designed for military use (counts as being rugged,Ultra-Tech pg. 15), this heavy semi-passive exoskeleton can support a typical soldiers full loadout. Holds 150lbs. $9,100, 38lbs, 1C/70hrs. LC 3.
Multiply the weight and cost of a semi-passive exoskeleton by 2/3rds at TL 10, 0.5 at TL11, and by 1/3rd at TL 12. Increase power cell duration by 4 at TL 10, 8 at TL 11, and by 16 at TL 12.