When someone says “exoskeleton,” it’s easy to imagine a clunky contraption made of metal, like the one we typically see in the news courtesy of various research groups, or in movies like Edge of Tomorrow. The exoskeleton that Harvard’s Wyss Institute is developing, though, doesn’t look like it was torn off a robot: it’s called the Soft Exosuit, and as its name implies, it’s lightweight and made of fabric. Wyss has actually been working on the Soft Exosuit for years, but now DARPA has granted it a $2.9 million funding under its Warrior Web program to further its development.
It’s no secret the US military is looking to enhance soldiers of the near-future with the kind of gear and weaponry seen usually in sci-fi (see the TALOS “Iron Man” project as one prime example). But it’s latest project is based on something more familiar: the human body. As announced today, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has issued a $2.9 million contract to researchers at Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering to develop a flexible robotic exoskeleton that can be worn by soldiers — and eventually civilians — to make them stronger and more resilient. The suit could even help people with mobility issues and paralysis to move again. In that sense, the Soft Exosuit, as it’s known, is similar in its goals to other robotic exoskeletons we’ve seen and written about before. But unlike many of those suits — which tend to be bulky, heavy and somewhat cumbersome — the Soft Exosuit is specifically designed to be as light and flexible as possible. It fits mostly around a wearer’s waist and legs and is made up primarily of textiles woven into straps which contain microprocessors, sensors, and a power supply. The motors that provide additional force and mobility are also located in a strap that goes around the wearer’s waist.