A robotic exoskeleton that is so light and comfortable it can be slipped on like a pair of trousers is being developed by Harvard scientists for a U.S. Defence Department.

The contraption, called the exosuit and comprising of a harness with tubing that wraps around the wearer’s legs, helps people lift heavier loads than they are naturally capable of.

Experts hope to eventually merge the prototype exosuit with real clothing so it will become a second skin and benefit athletes, soldiers and those who cannot walk because of muscle injuries.

‘You can imagine something like a spider web that’s integrated into tightly fitting pants,’ Conor Walsh, a robotics researcher at Harvard University’s Wyss Institute and leader of the team that designed and built the exosuit, told NBC News.

The suit is not the first robotic exoskeleton to have been trialled, although it is probably the most comfortable.

Hard metal and plastic outfits like those are already beginning to give paralysed people the ability to free themselves of wheelchairs but they are heavy, cumbersome units of machinery.

The exosuit is more of an enhancer than an assistant. It is much lighter than the hard prosthetic exoskeletons, weighing just 7.5 kilograms (not including the air supply that drives the artificial ‘muscles’).

Also, the suit relies on the existing movement of the legs as a person walks – its talent is adding extra power or force at the just right moment.

The suit’s performance was tested by five healthy males after they trained to use it for about three days. 

Walsh said that the suit is confusing to react to at first, but once a person adjusts  to the extra ‘body part’, they feel the the subtle benefits.

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Early stages: Experts hope to one day eventually merge the prototype exosuit with real clothing so it will become a second skin and benefit athletes, soldiers and those who cannot walk because of muscle injuries

Early stages: Experts hope to one day eventually merge the prototype exosuit with real clothing so it will become a second skin and benefit athletes, soldiers and those who cannot walk because of muscle injuries

 
Experts at Harvard University's Wyss Institute have developed a lightweight exoskeleton called the Exosuit.

The suit is significantly lighter than other man-made exoskeletons as it does not contain a rigid structure and composed primarily of specially designed fabrics.

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