Harvard scientists to build Iron Man-like suit for military

DARPA funds researchers building smart suit that should improve soldier's strength, endurance

Harvard University scientists are working on an Iron Man-like smart suit that could improve soldiers' endurance in war zones.

The university received a $2.6 million research grant for the project from DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), the research arm of the U.S. Department of Defense.

The suit, which is expected to include sensors and its own energy source, will be designed to delay the onset of fatigue, enabling soldiers to travel further in the field, while also supporting the body and protecting it from injuries when the soldier is carrying heavy loads.

A team of bioengineers at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard will work on the project.

The suit is designed to be lightweight, efficient and nonrestrictive, according to Harvard. It will be made from soft, wearable devices that will be connected to stretchable sensors for monitoring the body's biomechanics.

Another technology that is expected to be part of the suit will produce low-level vibrations that should increase the body's sensory functions and should give the wearer a better sense of balance.

This isn't the first effort to build a wearable mechanism that can bolster the human body.

Cyberdyne Inc., a Japanese company, built a robotic exoskeleton in 2009. The device, dubbed Robot Suit HAL, was designed to enable disabled people to stand up, walk and even climb stairs.

In the spring of 2011, researchers at the University of California at Berkeley built a metal robotic exoskeleton that enabled a paralyzed student to walk across the stage and receive his diploma at his college graduation. That exoskeleton was strapped around the student's legs and was controlled by control switch.

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, on Google+ or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed. Her email address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

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