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These robo-shorts are the precursor to a true soft exoskeleton
When someone says “robotic exoskeleton,” the power loaders from Aliens are what come to mind for most people (or at least me), but the real things will be much different: softer, smarter and used for much more ordinary tasks. The latest such exo from Harvard is so low-profile you could wear it around the house. Designed by researchers at Harvard’s Wyss Institute (in collaboration with several other institutions), which focuses on soft robotics and bio-inspired mechanisms, the exosuit isn’t for heavy lifting or combating xenomorphs, but simply walking and running a little bit more easily. The suit, which is really more of a pair of shorts with a mechanism attached at the lower back and cables going to straps on the legs, is intended to simply assist the leg in its hip-extension movement, common to most forms of locomotion. An onboard computer (and neural network, naturally) detects the movements of the wearer’s body and determines both the type of gait (walking or running) and what phase of that gait the leg is currently in. It gives the leg making the movement a little boost, making it just that much easier to do it. In testing, the suit reduced the metabolic load of walking by 9.3% and running by 4%. That might not sound like much, but they weren’t looking to create an Olympic-quality cyborg — just show reliable gains from a soft, portable exosuit. “While the metabolic reductions we found are modest, our study demonstrates that it is possible to have a portable wearable robot assist more than just a single activity, helping to pave the way for these systems to become ubiquitous in our lives,” said lead study author Conor Walsh in a news release. The whole idea, then, is to leave behind the idea of an exosuit as