Exoskeleton suits currently under development promise mobility for parapalegics, but are bulky, heavy, and overkill for those who just need a little extra help. Harvard has developed a ‘soft’ exoskeleton suit that works to assist people in walking rather than do the walking for them. The soft materials strap around the hips and legs and work in conjunction with a person’s normal walking gait. The DARPA-funded Soft Exosuit could be of major benefit to those who walk unsteadily, the elderly or even soldiers carrying heavy packs long distances as a way to increase endurance.

The Soft Exosuit is being developed by researchers at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University.

Most exoskeleton suits utilize rigid members to support and mobilize an individual with severe disabilities. For someone who cannot support themselves or walk on their own, this kind of solution is necessary. But, for a person who needs added assistance in the way of a boost, a nudge or just extra energy to help them walk, a rigid suit is far too much.

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Harvard researchers, led by Conor Walsh, a professor of mechanical and biomedical engineering, have developed the soft exosuit to propel individuals forward and aid them in their mobility.

The suit is composed of a series of fabric straps that wrap around the body, flexible silicon sensors and a series of cable pulleys that provide the extra aid. Worn like a pair of pants, eventually underneath clothing, the exosuit mimics the natural movement of the legs and provides provides small but carefully timed assistance at the joints.

Currently battery packs worn at the hips provide the necessary juice to power the suit and the researchers hope that advanced battery technology will help reduce their size. The Harvard team recently received a $2.9 million DARPA contract to further develop the biologically-inspired suit.

+ Soft Exosuit

+ Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering

[Via MIT Technology Review/a>]