Skip to main content

Harvard’s soft robotic exosuit adapts itself to the needs of every wearer

Multi-joint Personalized Exosuit Breaks New Ground

Over the past several years, we’ve seen robot exosuits move from the stuff of sci-fi firmly into the realm of science fact. Alongside this, our vision of what such exosuits may look like has shifted from the bulky “Power Loader” of James Cameron’s Aliens to softer, more personal wearables, which provide the same promise of assistive technology, but in a more practical, slimline form factor.

That’s where a new multi-joint, textile-based soft robotic exosuit created by researchers at Harvard University’s Wyss Institute comes into play. With the future goal of serving soldiers, firefighters, and other rescue workers, it promises to augment wearers’ physical abilities — while personalizing itself according to the unique needs of each user.

“The control tuning method [presented in our latest research] automatically customizes the timing of exosuit assistance to maximize the mechanical power delivered to the user’s ankle joints,” Sangjun Lee, one of the researchers on the project, told Digital Trends. “To be specific, as the delivered power is determined by how the human and the exosuit interact with each other, it is dependent not only on exosuit force, but also on wearer-specific joint motions. This method aims at automatically tuning the timing of exosuit force to make it more in sync with individual walking patterns, by online monitoring and maximizing the interaction power.”

Wyss Institute at Harvard University

The exosuit, which was funded by U.S. defense group DARPA, was recently put through its paces by soldiers. They tested it out on a 12-mile cross-country course, and found that it significantly reduced the metabolic cost of walking.

“Being a DARPA-funded project, military applications were the initial focus, but this is really useful work for anybody who could use some help walking,” Dave Perry, an engineer working on the project, told us. “First responders can use a similar system to help carry their gear up apartment stairs or out into the woods to fight a fire. We’ve partnered with a robotics company called ReWalk, and they’re currently bringing a medical focused device through clinical trials that leverage much of the technology we developed. We’d be excited to work with folks interested in some of the military and commercial applications as well.”

A paper describing the work was recently published in the Journal of NeuroEngineering and Rehabilitation.

Editors' Recommendations

Luke Dormehl
I'm a UK-based tech writer covering Cool Tech at Digital Trends. I've also written for Fast Company, Wired, the Guardian…
Improved fluidic robot paves the way for untethered soft robotics
soft robot fluidic tether simplesofthortizontal 1

Simplifying soft robots

Soft robots may be the future of robotics, but there are still many limitations in their design. One big problem is that soft robots generally need to be tethered, meaning that they have to be connected to an external device by wires which supply compressed air and control their systems. This limits their functionality for situations like space exploration, search and rescue, or medical surgeries.

Read more
This soft and flexible leech-inspired robot can climb walls
flexible leech robot

Wall-Climbing Robot Inspired by Leech

The creepy crawly in the video above is a robot called the Longitudinally Extensible Continuum-robot inspired by Hirudinea (LEeCH) which can elongate and bend its body to climb walls, just like a leech. The robot is made from a shower hose with two suction cups attached and is part of a growing trend of soft robots which are flexible and adaptable.

Read more
Harvard looks to the natural world to make its snake robots even faster
harvard snake robot moves faster

Snake-inspired robot slithers even better than predecessor

Snake-inspired robots are a surprisingly active class of robotics, and researchers from Harvard's John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) have just found a way to make them even better. As we’ve written before, the lab is experimenting with soft robotic outer shells that are created using a Japanese paper craft called kirigami. This involves utilizing cuts to change the properties of a material. With nothing more than this deceptively simple method, the researchers have developed a way to create a new 3D outer shell that makes its snake robots move faster -- by gripping the ground like a real snake.

Read more