DARPA awards contract to Harvard's Wyss Institute to further develop Soft Exosuit

The Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University announced today that it has been awarded a $2.9 million contract from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to further develop its Soft Exosuit or “wearable robotics” to enable soldiers to walk longer distances when carrying heavy loads.

Under this contract, Wyss Institute core faculty member Conor Walsh and his team will facilitate wearable robot design and fabrication.

The Soft Exosuit can actually be put on like a pair of conventional pants and will minimize the energy needed by a human to move physically. The research team said the wearable exosuit could prove to be extremely helpful to military personnel who navigate through tough terrain.

Soft Exosuit mimics the action of the leg muscles and tendons when a person walks. It provides assistance at the joints of the leg without restricting the wearer's movement unlike heavier exoskeleton systems. The current prototype features a series of webbing straps positioned around the lower half of the body. They contain a low-power microprocessor and a network of supple strain sensors that act as the suit's 'brain' and 'nervous system’. The sensors continuously monitor various data signals, suit tension and the position of the wearer.

The suit is scheduled to be incorporated into Darpa's Warrior Web programme that develops technologies to prevent and reduce musculoskeletal injuries for soldiers, with potential for civilian applications. It could reduce long-term health care costs and enhance the quality of life for people on and off the battlefield.

Walsh said, “While the idea of a wearable robot is not new, our design approach certainly is. Soft wearable robotics is a fundamentally new technology. We’re trying to take an entirely new approach to how we design and fabricate wearable robots”.