Exosuits are a staple of science fiction because they’re a plain good idea. As amazing as the human body is, it does have its limits. Exosuits could provide the augmentation to help us lift more, run faster, and walk further. The exosuits we normally see in fiction are rigid metal affairs that are more like robots you ride inside than suits you wear. The reality will probably be a lot more varied, and this new soft exosuit built by engineers at Harvard is one example of that.
This exosuit was designed by researchers from Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering specifically to make walking easier, and so it’s no surprise that the project received funding from DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency). It could, potentially, help soldiers walk further and expend less energy. But it would also be beneficial in the civilian world, particularly for people who have difficulty walking on their own. The exosuit helps in both situations by using mechanical actuation to assist the wearer’s leg movement.
It looks like a backpack with cables running down to leg straps. The backpack contains batteries, and motors which pull on those cables. When the cables are pulled, the wearer’s legs are forced to bend or extend, just like how your muscles and tendons naturally work. Despite the weight of the exosuit, the team measured a 14.8% reduction in the metabolic cost of walking compared to walking normally. That jumps to 22% when compared to a person walking while wearing the suit with it turned off. As battery technology improves, an exosuit like this could provide even more dramatic results.