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Increasing physical endurance with a smart suit under way

By Damir Beciri
21 July 2012

wyss-smart-suitDefense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has recently funded the researchers from Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University to develop a smart suit that could be used to improve physical endurance for soldiers in the field. Unlike exoskeletons we previously wrote about, the proposed suit will be made from soft and lightweight materials.

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.

Led by Conor Walsh, assistant professor of mechanical and biomedical engineering at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) and Wyss core faculty member, the researchers plan to combine several different technologies developed by Wyss to create an efficient and nonrestrictive suit.

One of such technologies is a stretchable sensor that could be used to 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 fatigue. 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.

“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.

Aside help from Wyss Advanced Technology Team who will oversee the testing of prototypes in the Wyss Institute’s biomechanics lab by using motion-capture capabilities that can measure the impact of the suit on specific muscles and joints, the project will be supported by researchers from MIT and Boston University’s College of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences.

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.

Although initially developed for military as many technologies before, the technologies being developed at Wyss could be used to increase endurance of mountaineers, or increase endurance in the elderly and help improve mobility for people with physical disabilities.

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