In the future, smart textile-based soft robotic exosuits could be worn by soldiers, fire fighters and rescue workers to help them traverse difficult terrain and arrive fresh at their destinations so that they can perform their respective tasks more effectively.
They could also become a powerful means to enhance mobility and quality of living for people suffering from neurodegenerative disorders and for the elderly.
Conor Walsh’s team at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University and the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) has been at the forefront of developing different soft wearable robotic devices that support mobility by applying mechanical forces to critical joints of the body, including at the ankle or hip joints, or in the case of a multi-joint soft exosuit both.
While the researchers have demonstrated that lab-based versions of soft exosuits can provide clear benefits to wearers, allowing them to spend less energy while walking and running, there remains a need for fully wearable exosuits that are suitable for use in the real world.
The multi-joint soft exosuit consists of textile apparel components worn at the waist, thighs, and calves. Through an optimized mobile actuation system worn near the waist and integrated into a military rucksack, mechanical forces are transmitted via cables that are guided through the exosuit’s soft components to ankle and hip joints. This way, the exosuit adds power to the ankles and hips to assist with leg movements during the walking cycle.
“This research marks an important point in the Wyss Institute’s Bioinspired Soft Robotics Initiative and its development of soft exosuits in that it opens a path on which robotic devices could be adopted and personalized in real world scenarios by healthy and disabled wearers,” said Wyss Institute Founding Director Donald Ingber, M.D., Ph.D., who is also the Judah Folkman Professor of Vascular Biology at HMS and the Vascular Biology Program at Boston Children’s Hospital, and Professor of Bioengineering at SEAS.