Smart suit improves physical endurance

Jul 20, 2012 By Twig Mowatt
The new wearable system would be made from soft, stretchable, assistive devices, which would help improve physical endurance for soldiers in the field. Credit: Courtesy of the Wyss Institute

The Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University today announced that it has received a $2.6 million contract from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to develop a smart suit that helps improve physical endurance for soldiers in the field.

The novel wearable system would potentially delay the onset of fatigue, enabling soldiers to walk longer distances, and also potentially improve the body’s resistance to injuries when carrying heavy loads.

Lightweight, efficient, and nonrestrictive, the proposed suit will be made from soft wearable assistive devices that integrate several novel Wyss technologies. One is a stretchable sensor that would monitor the body’s biomechanics without the need for the typical rigid components that often interfere with motion. The system could potentially detect the onset of . Additionally, one of the technologies in the suit may help the wearer maintain balance by providing low-level mechanical vibrations that boost the body’s sensory functions.

The new smart suit will be designed to overcome several of the problems typically associated with current wearable systems, including their large power requirements and rigid overall structures, which restrict normal movement and can be uncomfortable.

Although the project is focused on assisting and protecting soldiers in the field, the technologies being developed could have many other applications as well. For instance, similar soft-wearable devices hold the potential to increase endurance in the elderly and help improve mobility for people with physical disabilities.

Conor Walsh, assistant professor of mechanical and biomedical engineering at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) and Wyss core faculty member, will lead this interdisciplinary program. The program will include collaborations with core faculty member Rob Wood and Wyss Technology Development Fellow Yong-Lae Park, for developing soft sensor technologies, and with core faculty member George Whitesides, for developing novel soft interfaces between the device and the wearer. Wood is also the Gordon McKay Professor of Electrical Engineering at the SEAS, and Whitesides is also the Woodford L. and Ann A. Flowers University Professor at Harvard. Sang-bae Kim, assistant professor of mechanical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Ken Holt, associate professor at Boston University’s College of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, will also play key roles on the project.

Also working on the project will be several members of the Wyss Advanced Technology Team who will oversee the testing of prototypes in the Wyss Institute’s biomechanics lab, using motion-capture capabilities that can measure the impact of the suit on specific muscles and joints.

“This project is a excellent example of how Wyss researchers from different disciplines work side by side with experts in product development to develop solutions to difficult problems that might not otherwise be possible,” said Donald Ingber, Wyss founding director and the Judah Folkman Professor of Vascular Biology in the Department of Pathology.

Explore further: Lifting the brakes on fuel efficiency

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Using nature to inspire robotics

Jun 12, 2012

Scientists looking to nature for inspiration in solving humanity’s problems gathered at Harvard Medical School (HMS) on Friday to learn how robotics is helping to improve medical care.

Warrior web to prevent injury, reduce effects of load

Oct 06, 2011

Today’s dismounted warfighters often carry 100 pounds or more of equipment as they patrol for hours across rugged or hilly terrain. This heavy load increases the risk of musculoskeletal injury, particularly ...

Recommended for you

Lifting the brakes on fuel efficiency

11 hours ago

The work of a research leader at Michigan Technological University is attracting attention from Michigan's Governor as well as automotive companies around the world. Xiaodi "Scott" Huang of Michigan Tech's ...

Large streams of data warn cars, banks and oil drillers

Apr 16, 2014

Better warning systems that alert motorists to a collision, make banks aware of the risk of losses on bad customers, and tell oil companies about potential problems with new drilling. This is the aim of AMIDST, the EU project ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

LinkedIn membership hits 300 million

The career-focused social network LinkedIn announced Friday it has 300 million members, with more than half the total outside the United States.

Treating depression in Parkinson's patients

A group of scientists from the University of Kentucky College of Medicine and the Sanders-Brown Center on Aging has found interesting new information in a study on depression and neuropsychological function in Parkinson's ...