And now, a soft exoskeleton

A two-fer from Harvard’s Wyss Institute this week. In addition to developing an artificial spleen, researchers there just received a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) grant for an exoskeleton. What distinguishes this device from other exoskeletons we’ve written about—and makes it of likely more benefit to seniors—is that this so-called “Soft Exosuit” supports the leg muscles with flexible fabric, rather than rigid materials.

If that sounds merely like a longer version of a back support belt, what makes it worth a government grant is the embedded sensor system, which continuously measures the wearer’s position, the suit’s tension, and other factors. No doubt, given the advances in medical monitoring, later versions will be able to track vital signs and detect more detailed aspects of movement.

Indeed, Harvard promises in its press release, “the team will collaborate with clinical partners to develop a medical version of the suit that can help stroke patients, for example, who often experience a slow, inefficient gait and could greatly benefit from walking assistance.”  While the Soft Exosuit should have a promising future as both a diagnostic and an assistive device, it’s still in prototype phase.

The ReWalk exoskeleton, by contrast, has just had “the best performing IPO of the year.” Their stock has been as high as nearly $44 a share and closed today at $33.20.  We wish all involved well, and we hope the cash infusion can help the company develop their device into a less cumbersome–and less expensive–solution.