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29th January 2015

Exoskeleton? Yes, the light one please

A while back, exoskeletons seemed to exist only in blockbuster movies like Iron man or Elysium.

Then, the first real exoskeleton, which helped the paralyzed stand up, walk or climb stairs, became reality. Even the kid who had the first shot at this year’s World Cup was wearing it. And now: Harvard researchers came up with the newest of the bunch: a light exoskeleton, named the Soft Exosuit. It’s a bit too light to help the wheelchair bound stand up, but it gives enough strength for those who suffer from muscle weakness by enhancing the natural ability.

There is no bulky gear, no heavy battery pack and forget the stiffness. It’s more like a pair of “smart pants”, made from spandex, sensors, and a few cables.

As so many things out there, right now it’s mostly intended for military use, but the team is working on making versions more fit for, well, regular people. The basic idea though is the same: work with what you have and boost it.

Boost and don’t disrupt

How does it work?

There are several sensors fitted across the material which detect when a joint in your leg becomes active. They also monitor the position of the user and the tension at different parts of the suit, imagine the difference between squatting, bending, or walking. They then command the cables around the suit to pull and tug at the right places giving the wearer greater strength. Like giving your heel a pull or helping the hip move around when you step forward. It all relies on your natural capabilities and muscle work, which makes it great because it doesn’t interfere and mess up your regular gait.

Walkers out, spandex in?

We can’t yet tell your grandma to skip the walkers and pull up the exosuit. But it doesn’t seem far away.

For more, let the researchers themselves explain it:

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Header Photo: Brooke Hoyer/Flickr