A soft exosuit currently being developed by Harvard University’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering for DARPA’s Warrior Web program is designed to be lightweight and help prevent musculoskeletal injury in warfighters. The Warrior Web program is geared toward creating technologies built to alleviate musculoskeletal injuries among warfighters while improving performance.
A news release issued by DARPA notes that the Wyss team aims to integrate component technologies developed in separate Warrior Web efforts into a prototype suit engineered to offer expanded capabilities. The release adds that DARPA plans to test the final suit in appropriate mission profiles under realistic loads to evaluate performance.
The equipment and gear carried by warfighters can reportedly exceed 100 pounds, increasing the risk of musculoskeletal injury, particularly during the physical activities necessary in a tactical environment; impacted areas can include the ankles, knees, and lumbar spine. The added weight can also heighten physical fatigue, decreasing performance and the ability to protect against acute and chronic injury.
The release states that the Warrior Web program’s ultimate goal centers on creating a lightweight, conformal undersuit that is functionally transparent to the user—not unlike a diver’s wetsuit. The vision for the suit is that it will employ a system of closed-loop controlled actuation, transmission, and functional structures that protect injury prone areas, with a primary focus on soft tissues that connect and interface with the skeletal system.
According to the release, the current Wyss Institute’s suit is comprised of soft, functional textiles woven into a piece of smart clothing that is pulled on like a pair of pants and worn under a soldier’s regular gear. Thanks to a biologically inspired design, the suit mimics the action of leg muscle and tendons when the individual walks, and provides small, carefully timed assistance at the joints of the leg without restricting the wearer’s movement.
[Photo Credit: DARPA]