Soft Human Exo-Skeleton

For decades, engineers have built exosuits around hard frames. Now researchers at Harvard’s Wyss Institute have created a prototype using soft components.

In normal hard body exoskeletons, a metal or composite frame is used as an anchor for the hydraulic systems that give the wearer super strength. The drawback is that these suits restrict movement and are really uncomfortable.  Think of the difference between Iron Man’s flexible suit and the bulky ones that lifted heavy boxes in Avatar.

To get us one step closer to the Iron Man suit, the Wyss Institute has developed a soft-exosuit that can augment a user’s strength by pumping air into flexible, custom-made, textile bladders attached to a person’s muscles.

Key to the function of the soft exosuits are sensors connected to the wearer’s body. In the Wyss model hyperelastic strain sensors were placed on the user’s lower back, hip, calf and ankle. These sensors record and respond to the movement of the user’s body, inflating the exosuits bladder’s whenever stimulated. The resulting inflation provides extra power to the muscle being engaged, allowing the wearer to jump higher, run faster, and climb higher.

Because the Wyss exosuit uses location specific sensors and textile bladders, it provides the same benefits of older rigid models while also preserving the user’s complete range of motion.

The researchers believe that their soft exosuit could be used in a number of applications including helping soldiers carry heavy loads in the field, assisting the elderly to move and helping to rehabilitate people with movement disorders.

No word on when it might fly. 

Watch a Video of the Suit Prototype in Action

Images and Video Courtesy of Wyss Institute