Harvard scientists have just designed a wearable robotic exoskeleton suit that could help restore movement to people with physical disabilities and provide extra strength to the able-bodied.

Back in 2014, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) awarded the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University a nearly $3 million contract to develop this robotic exoskeleton suit.

The plan was to design a suit that could be comfortably worn by soldiers, helping them “walk longer distances, keep fatigue at bay, and minimize the risk of injury when carrying heavy loads,” a press release said.

Composed of a waist belt, two straps on the thighs, and two on the calves, all connected by cables to two motors mounted on a backpack, the revolutionarily non-rigid, textile-based suit does not restrict the wearer’s freedom of movement, according to its developers.

Though the team found that the suit assists the ankles and hips, which together contribute to 80 percent of the power generated by the legs during walking, for the suit to be really useful, the device must “pay for its own weight.” That means that even though the wearer is carrying the extra weight of the suit, the user’s overall metabolic cost (that’s the energy used when walking) is reduced.

The suit accomplished just that, allowing able-bodied people to improve their capabilities in carrying a heavy load. They found that the suit reduced the amount of energy used when walking under that type of stress by 7.3 percent on average. The device might primarily be used by people who frequently carry heavy loads, “such as soldiers, first-responders or hikers.”

“Apart from assisting load carriers, we are exploring how the soft exosuit can be used to assist individuals with impaired movement,” said Conor Walsh, an author on the study.

Next, read about some of the world’s most astonishing robots.

Elisabeth Sherman
Elisabeth Sherman
Elisabeth Sherman is a writer living in Jersey City, New Jersey.
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