[VIDEO] Harvard and DARPA build fabric-based robotic exoskeleton

DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) has awarded the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University $2.9 million (£1.8 million) to develop a "biologically inspired smart suit."

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The "Soft Exosuit" is designed to "enable soldiers to walk longer distances, keep fatigue at bay, and minimize the risk of injury when carrying heavy loads," and (perhaps uniquely) intended to be comfortable and worn under clothing.

Researchers at the Wyss Institute used their understanding of how humans walk to build a robotic exosuit that isn't so energy-hungry as previous suits, or so bulky that it interferes with natural joint movement.

A spokesperson for the Wyss Institute said: "Through a biologically inspired design, the suit mimics the action of the leg muscles and tendons when a person walks, and provides small but carefully timed assistance at the joints of the leg without restricting the wearer's movement."

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The project isn't all about turning the US military's soldiers into RoboCop; the Institute is also collaborating with clinical partners to develop a version of the suit that will assist patients with mobility issues.

For example "a medical version of the suit that can help stroke patients... who often experience a slow, inefficient gait and could greatly benefit from walking assistance."