Ilustration of the future bio-super suit (Credit: Wyss Institute)
The Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) recently awarded 2.6 million dollars to the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University in order to develop a smart suit that can help improve the physical endurance for soldiers in the field.
The concept behind the novel wearable system is that it would potentially delay the onset of fatigue, allowing soldiers to walk longer distances, and also to improve the body’s resistance to injuries caused by carrying heavy loads (a typical problem familiar to many soldiers).
The suit which is currently in development will be made of soft wearable assistive devices that integrate several novel technologies developed at the WyssInstitute. One such technology is is a stretchable sensor that would monitor the body’s biomechanics without the need for the typical rigid components that often interfere with a person’s motion. The system could potentially detect when a soldier start to exhibit signs of fatigue. The suit may also help the wearer maintain balance by providing low-level mechanical vibrations that boost the body’s sensory functions.
There are many companies working on exoskeleton technologies which could help a soldier gain super human strength and stamina (such as the (XOS 2 from raytheon or Ekso Bionics unit which is now working on a unit aimed at disabled people). The smart suit developed by the researchers at the WyssInstitute is designed to overcome several of the problems typically associated with current wearable systems, including their huge power requirements and rigid structure, which tend to restrict normal movement and can be uncomfortable especially in battle conditions.
Wyss Founding Director Dr. Donald Ingber said: "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".
At this point it’s unclear what is the time frame for the development of the new suit, but its basic design requirments are clear – it should be lightweight, efficient, and nonrestrictive. Who knows – the next step just might be a real life Crysis Nanosuit.
More information can be found on the Wyss Institute website.
Iddo has a B.A. in Philosophy and Cognitive Science and an M.A. in Philosophy of Science from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He is currently writing his Ph.D. thesis on the relationship between the scientific community and industry. Iddo was awarded the 2006 Bar Hillel philosophy of science prize for his work on the relationship between science and technology. He is a member of the board of the lifeboat foundation and was the editor of several high-profile science and technology websites since 1999.