Exoskeletons show great promise, both to increase the abilities and capabilities of the able-bodied user, and for the rehabilitation of disabled people. However, they also tend to be stiff fixtures that are not particularly comfortable (or lightweight) to wear. Researchers at the Wiss Institute at Harvard University recently demonstrated what they hope is a more user-friendly alternative, “soft exosuit.”
Sensors on the lower back of the user, as well as on the thigh, lower leg and ankle joint, recognize the user's movements. The system responds to these movements by selectively supplying air to the bubble in the suit, providing support and push for the user's own muscular strength.
Thanks to specially designed fabrics, soft exosuit is much lighter than a hard outer skeleton. Also, this device practically does not limit the user in his natural movements. Exoskeletons, on the other hand, can cause joint problems, because the knees, hips, and ankles get nutrition through movement when they are not limited.
Exosuit was designed primarily by Connor Walsh, who also develops military web suits. While this costume is designed specifically for use by soldiers, a soft exosuit can probably also be used to help people like farmers, paramedics, or firefighters solve their basic tasks. The device is also aimed at maintaining or restoring the ability to walk in older people, as well as to rehabilitate people with movement disorders, such as cerebral palsy.
The current prototype can be seen in action in the video below. The final version of the costume can use electric drives instead of compressed air.
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