The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa) has awarded a first-phase follow-on contract to Harvard University's Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering to continue the development of a biologically inspired smart suit.
Under the $2.9m contract, the Wyss Institute team will demonstrate the proof-of-concept of its Soft Exosuit, which is expected to enable soldiers to walk longer distances, control fatigue and minimise the risk of injury when carrying heavy loads.
Designed to be worn under a soldier's regular gear, Soft Exosuit mimics the action of the leg muscles and tendons when a person walks. It provides assistance at the joints of the leg without restricting the wearer's movement unlike legacy heavier exoskeleton systems. .
The current prototype features a series of webbing straps positioned around the lower half of the body. They contain a low-power microprocessor and a network of supple strain sensors that act as the suit's 'brain' and 'nervous system'.
The sensors continuously monitor various data signals, including the suit tension and the position of the wearer, among others.
Wyss Institute founding director Don Ingber said: "(This) work is a great example of the power of bringing together people from multiple disciplines with focused resources to translate what first seems like a dream into a product that could transform people's lives."
Wyss Institute team would also work with clinical partners to develop a medical version of the suit, which could help stroke patients experiencing a slow, inefficient gait to walk.
The suit is scheduled to be incorporated into Darpa's Warrior Web programme that develops technologies to prevent and reduce musculoskeletal injuries for soldiers, with potential for civilian applications.
The project is being supported by individuals from Boston University's College of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, a team of Harvard postdoctoral fellows and graduates.
Image: Soft Exosuit is a wearable robot made from lightweight and flexible materials. Photo: Harvard's Wyss Institute.