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  SoldierMod Volume 14 - December 2014
Volume 14 Articles

DARPA logoDARPA Awards Contract for Further Development of Flexible Exoskeleton

News from DARPA

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Photo: © Harvard’s Wyss Institute.
Photo: © Harvard’s Wyss Institute.

In an 11 September press release, The Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University announced that it has been awarded a first-phase $2.9 million follow-on contract by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to continue development of its Soft Exosuit as part of DARPA’s Warrior Web program.

The device is intended to be worn comfortably under clothing and could “enable soldiers to walk longer distances, keep fatigue at bay, and minimize the risk of injury when carrying heavy loads. Alternative versions of the suit could eventually assist those with limited mobility as well.”

According to DARPA, “The Warrior Web program seeks to develop the technologies required to prevent and reduce musculoskeletal injuries caused by dynamic events typically found in the warfighter’s environment. The ultimate program goal is a lightweight, conformal under-suit that is transparent to the user (like a diver’s wetsuit). The suit seeks to employ a system (or web) of closed-loop controlled actuation, transmission and functional structures that protect injury prone areas, focusing on the soft tissues that connect and interface with the skeletal system.”

Harvard’s solution, created by a team led by Wyss Institute Core Faculty member Conor Walsh, Ph.D., is Soft Exosuit. It has been designed to overcome the challenges of traditional heavier exoskeleton systems, such as power-hungry battery packs and rigid components that can interfere with natural joint movement. It is made of soft, functional textiles woven together into a piece of smart clothing that is pulled on like a pair of pants and intended to be worn under a soldier’s regular gear. Through a biologically inspired design, the suit mimics the action of the leg muscles and tendons when a person walks and provides small, but carefully timed assistance at the joints of the leg without restricting the wearer’s movement.

“While the idea of a wearable robot is not new, our design approach certainly is,” said Walsh, who is also an Assistant Professor of Mechanical and Biomedical Engineering at Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) and founder of the Harvard Biodesign Lab.

Building on Earlier Work

nouncement of the recent award is the first of what could be a two-phase contract, which will enable Walsh and his team to build upon their earlier work, which was also funded by DARPA, which demonstrated the proof-of-concept of the Soft Exosuit. Inspired by a deep understanding of the biomechanics of human walking, the Soft Exosuit technology is spawning the development of entirely new forms of functional textiles, flexible power systems, soft sensors and control strategies that enable intuitive and seamless human-machine interaction.

In a current prototype, a series of webbing straps positioned around the lower half of the body contain a low-power microprocessor and network of supple strain sensors that act as the “brain” and “nervous system” of the Soft Exosuit, respectively — continuously monitoring various data signals, including the suit tension, the position of the wearer (e.g., walking, running, crouched) and more.

Under the terms of the contract with DARPA, the Wyss Institute will receive up to $2.9 million for its work on Warrior Web, with full funding contingent on meeting a series of undisclosed technical milestones. n

A video provided by the Wyss Institute of the Soft Suit in action can be seen here:

For more info on Warrior Web visit:

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