Ironman kicks ass. And not just because that’s Robert Downey Jr. inside. The idea of an impermeable exoskeleton has fascinated humans since medieval knights designed the first metal armor. Now, NASA is working on a real-life version of Ironman’s fictional suit called the “X1” that could help keep astronauts healthier in space, and make it possible for paraplegics to walk on Earth.

For now, NASA’s Ironman suit looks more like a pair of high tech overalls. Worn over the legs with a harness that reaches up the back and around the shoulders, the X1 has 10 degrees of freedom, or joints — four motorized joints at the hips and the knees, and six passive joints that allow for sidestepping, turning and pointing, and flexing a foot. Full of technology inspired by NASA’s Robonaut 2 project, it weighs about 57 pounds, but of course that’s no problem for astronauts in zero-gravity environments.

In the inhibit mode, the robotic device would be used as an in-space exercise machine to supply resistance against leg movement. It would take up less room than treadmills or weights, and still help keep astronaut muscles from atrophying while working in microgravity. The device also has the ability to measure, record and stream back, in real-time, data to flight controllers on Earth, giving doctors better feedback on the impact of the crew’s exercise regimen. The same technology could be used in reverse on the ground, potentially helping some disabled individuals walk for the first time, much like this robosuit designed in Japan.

“What’s extraordinary about space technology and our work with projects like Robonaut are the unexpected possibilities space tech spinoffs may have right here on Earth,” said Michael Gazarik, director of NASA’s Space Technology Program. “It’s exciting to see a NASA-developed technology that might one day help people with serious ambulatory needs begin to walk again, or even walk for the first time. That’s the sort of return on investment NASA is proud to give back to America and the world.”


via Wordless Tech