The future of the exoskeleton is becoming something that more and more research firms are looking into. I think of things like the TitanArm and the ReWalk system and marvel as to what the future may hold for these inventions.
Harvard’s Wyss Institute is also developing an exoskeleton, but unlike any we have seen so far. The design actually doesn’t look like it has been taken straight from a robot. The design is made from a lightweight material and is called the Soft Exosuit. The idea of a lightweight, fabric exoskeleton may seem like a waste of time, as it couldn’t possibly offer any protective benefits to the wearer. But, this isn’t designed to be a protective barrier, more like smart clothing.
Neill Blomkamp’s Ecto-skeleton vision in Elysium was a little bit less subtle than what DARPA is aiming for…
The Wyss Institute has actually been working on the Soft Exosuit for years now, but recently DARPA has granted it $2.9 million funding under its Warrior Web program to further the development of the fabric exoskeleton. The current design is really more like smart clothing, which can be worn like pants, and is designed to mimic how leg muscles and tendons work and move to support the users’ joints as they walk. The design is made possible thanks to the tactically placed harnesses around the legs, which contain flexible sensors. In turn, these sensors are controlled by a low-power microprocessor.
The Warrior Web program from DARPA searches out new technologies to stop injuries in soldiers. With that in mind, it would be a reasonable assumption to say that the Soft Exosuit may be used by the military when it has been completed.
The creators of the suit believe that it may also be used by healthy, non-military people, though, to extend the distance they can travel by foot without being overtaken by fatigue. The team is also planning to collaborate with clinical partners to develop a medical version for patients with very limited mobility.