Walking easy with motorised pants

A spandex and nylon harness, paired with a few cables and motors, could help soldiers carry heavy loads farther. Credit: Harvard

It is now a few years that researchers have been working on exoskeleton, a sort of cage that can be worn and that help in carrying weights by using motors and levers connected to the wearer body. These exoskeletons are encumbering and make the wearer look more like a robot than a human being. Also his gait is more similar to a robot.

Now Harvard researchers have been able to develop a soft exoskeleton that can be worn as a dress and yet can help in walking long distances and carrying weight (although not as heavy as an exoskeleton).

You can read the article on Technology Review. The reason I am posting this news is because of the variety of technologies that are being used to make this soft exoskeleton possibile.

Researchers had to miniaturise the motors and connect them to the "pants" in such a way that the force gets distributer by the pants' fabric. They had to invent soft and flexible sensors to be embedded in the fabric to provide a feedback to the computer that is orchestrating the whole.

The software looks also pretty complex. It takes into account the mechanics of human muscles and tendons to have the motor and the forces generated work in synch with the movements of the body and its limbs.

Although the research is sponsored by DARPA with a clear focus on military applications (the same drive that generated the hard exoskeletons) a soft exoskeleton can be helpful to people with motor weakness because the movement of their muscles can be reinforced by the motors in a natural way.
This convergence of several technology to produce a viable system is quite interesting and it shows how research teams need to be multifunctional.

Author - Roberto Saracco

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