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July 20, 2012

Smart Suit Improves Physical Endurance

The Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University today announced that it has received a $2.6 million contract from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to develop a smart suit that helps improve physical endurance for soldiers in the field.

Note: I know the pictures look like something being worn by two extroverted homosexual men in San Francisco. They look not a little gay but very gay. However, they are supposed to be worn under a uniform.

This seems to be DARPA warrior web project. DARPA is seeking to make a lightweight, conformal under-suit that is transparent to the user (like a diver’s wetsuit). The suit seeks to employ a system (or web) of closed-loop controlled actuation, transmission, and functional structures that protect injury prone areas, focusing on the soft tissues that connect and interface with the skeletal system. Other novel technologies that prevent, reduce, ambulate, and assist with healing of acute and chronic musculoskeletal injuries are also being sought.

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.

Lightweight, efficient, and nonrestrictive, the proposed suit will be made from soft wearable assistive devices that integrate several novel Wyss technologies. One is a stretchable sensor that would 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.


Courtesy of the Wyss Institute. The new wearable system would be made from soft, stretchable, assistive devices, which would help improve physical endurance for soldiers in the field.

The Warrior Web graphic looks less gay by showing cutaway of the suit under a regular uniform




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.

Although the DARPA project is focused on assisting and protecting soldiers in the field, the technologies being developed could have many other applications as well. For instance, similar soft-wearable devices hold the potential to increase endurance in the elderly and help improve mobility for people with physical disabilities.

Conor Walsh, assistant professor of mechanical and biomedical engineering at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) and Wyss core faculty member, will lead this interdisciplinary program. The program will include collaborations with core faculty member Rob Wood and Wyss Technology Development Fellow Yong-Lae Park, for developing soft sensor technologies, and with core faculty member George Whitesides, for developing novel soft interfaces between the device and the wearer. Wood is also the Gordon McKay Professor of Electrical Engineering at the SEAS, and Whitesides is also the Woodford L. and Ann A. Flowers University Professor at Harvard. Sang-bae Kim, assistant professor of mechanical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Ken Holt, associate professor at Boston University’s College of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, will also play key roles on the project.


Other Work at the Wyss Institute

A Harvard-led team of engineers presented a strategy for building self-thermoregulating nanomaterials that can, in principle, be tailored to maintain a set pH, pressure, or just about any other desired parameter by meeting the environmental changes with a compensatory chemical feedback response.

Called SMARTS (Self-regulated Mechano-chemical Adaptively Reconfigurable Tunable System), this newly developed materials platform offers a customizable way to autonomously turn chemical reactions on and off and reproduce the type of dynamic self-powered feedback loops found in biological systems. The advance represents a step toward more intelligent and efficient medical implants and even dynamic buildings that could respond to the weather for increased energy efficiency. The researchers also expect that their methodology could have considerable potential for translation into areas such as robotics, computing, and healthcare.

Structurally, SMARTS resembles a microscopic toothbrush, with bristles that can stand up or lie down, making and breaking contact with a layer containing chemical "nutrients."


A strategy for building self-regulating nanomaterials relies on an array of tiny nanofibers, akin to little hairs, embedded in a layer of hydrogel. (Simulation image courtesy of James Weaver and Tom Blough, Harvard University.)


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