Harvard gets DARPA grant to develop soft, mobility exosuit

Soft Exosuit--Courtesy of Harvard

The U.S Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) awarded Harvard University engineers up to $2.9 million to develop a robotic suit to make walking easier for soldiers and potentially civilians with disabilities, the university announced today.

The Soft Exosuit will be developed by Harvard's Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering. "When people think about traditional robotic systems, they don't think about something that can be worn by a person. When developing this soft exosuit, we start from the analysis of human biomechanics," said Wyss Institute postdoctoral fellow Stefano De Rossi in a university video.

It consists of straps worn around the legs that monitor the suit's tension and the user's body position via a low-power microprocessor and soft, wearable sensors. Small, precisely calibrated assistance is delivered to the leg joints during walking.

"It is designed so that the structure of the textile, the load paths that the suit creates over the body, mimic the function of the underlying muscles and tendons, and so when we apply force in the suit, this is acting parallel with biological muscles and tendons," said Wyss Institute postdoctoral fellow Alan Asbeck during the video.

The suit is leading to new textiles, power systems, soft sensors and control strategies in the human-machine interaction arena, the university says. The wearable device has already passed the proof-of-concept stage in previous research also funded by DARPA's Warrior Web Program for technology to reduce musculoskeletal injuries among soldiers.

The soft exosuit is designed to be worn under a soldier's regular gear to reduce fatigue and injuries. And an alternative "medical" version will be studied for stroke patients and others with disabilities, a university announcement says.

A unit within the Department of Defense, DARPA is funding a variety of medical device initiatives with military and civilian applications such as the Restoring Active Memory program to study neurological implants. Last year the agency gave the Wyss Institute $9.25 million to study blood cleansing technology to treat sepsis.

- read the university news release and/or watch the video

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