DARPA has awarded a first-phase US$2.9 million follow-on contract to the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University as part of its Warrior Web program to create a soft exoskeleton. The Wyss Institute is studying the biometrics of walking as part of an effort to develop a soft fabric exoskeleton called the Soft Exosuit that uses robotics and biomimetics to augment the wearer’s musculoskeletal system as a way to reduce fatigue and injuries in soldiers and the disabled.

The Warrior Web program aims at creating an alternative to the sort of hard, powered exoskeletons such as the XOS 2, HULC and Fortis that have been under development since the 1960s.

Instead of massive steel and plastic frames that consume large amounts of power and interfere with the wearer’s natural movements, the Soft Exosuit and similar technologies use computer-controlled textiles and wires that act not just as passive supports like orthopedic clothing, but as powered robotic systems that mimic the wearer’s muscles and tendons to provide timed boosts to increase strength and reduce walking fatigue without excess bulk.

In the first of what may be a two-part contract, the Wyss Institute will build on earlier work on a proof-of-concept wearable robot design. The next phase will concentrate on the development of an intuitive control interface, functional textiles, flexible power systems, soft sensors, and control strategies.

"Over just a couple of short years, [Wyss Institute Core Faculty member Conor Walsh] and his team will work to fundamentally shift the paradigm of what is possible in wearable robotics," says Wyss Institute Founding Director Don Ingber. "Their work is a great example of the power of bringing together people from multiple disciplines with focused resources to translate what first seems like a dream into a product that could transform people's lives."

To receive the full $2.9 million in funding, the Wyss Institute team will need to meet a series of technical milestones.

The team explain their Soft Exosuit in the video below.

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