Even in the magical world of Hollywood, exosuits tend to be depicted as large metal contraptions. But do the robosuit-wearers of the future really need to be Iron Men? A team at Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering has developed what they call a Soft Exosuit, a wearable robotic device that only weighs thirteen pounds and attaches to the legs, making walking easier.
The suit works by mimicking the action of the leg muscles and tendons when a person walks, with an actuator system giving small, carefully timed assistance at the ankle and hip joints without restricting the wearer’s movement. The breakthrough is in the “structured functional textiles” that transmit those applied forces all over the body during natural movement. Wearable, flexible sensors integrate into the fabric to gauge the body’s movement and provide support at the right moment.
The Institute announced yesterday that the project had received funding from DARPA, which is interested in using the suit to make carrying loads and walking long distances easier on soldiers, reducing the risk of injury. The team also has a research agreement with New Balance.
Other exosuits designed to help people with mobility are in development, including one called ReWalk, which was recently approved for home use by the FDA. Makers of exosuits hope that they will eventually be used in a variety of different applications, in military or first responder situations, as a treatment for people with limited mobility or even in sports.