DARPA developing lightweight undersuit that reduces injury and augments muscles

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.

In 2013, this “Warrior Web” project has $10.25 million in funding.

We first covered this in September of 2011 and noted how this would be a supersuit like what Edna Mode provided for the Incredibles in the Pixar animation.

In addition to direct injury mitigation, Warrior Web will have the capacity to augment positive work done by the muscles, to reduce the physical burden, by leveraging the web structure to impart joint torque at the ankle, knee, and hip joints. The suit seeks to reduce the metabolic cost of carrying a typical assault load, as well as compensate for the weight of the suit itself, while consuming no more than 100 Watts of electric power from the battery source.

While injury mitigation is a primary goal, a Warrior Web suit system is not intended to interfere with current warfighter “soldier systems,” such as external body armor, rather it aims to augment them to improve warfighter effectiveness.

The Warrior Web program will consist of two separate but related program tasks. Task A, called Warrior Web Alpha, seeks to develop a mix of core technologies critical to the realization of a Warrior Web capability. The Warrior Web Alpha effort examines five key Technology Areas: core injury mitigation technologies; comprehensive analytical representations; regenerative actuation; adaptive sensing and control; and suit human-to-wearer interface.

Part way through the Warrior Web program, Warrior Web Bravo, or Task B, is expected to develop an integrated suit capability by leveraging the technology developed by Task A efforts and incorporating the most appropriate breakthroughs into a suit that shows the best performance. The final suit is expected to be tested in appropriate mission profiles under realistic loads to evaluate performance.

Energy Harvesting

There are shoes which may be able recover 20 watts of energy from when our feet hit the ground while walking or running.

Work from 2009 on energy harvesting from a knee brace.

Energy Harvesting rubber sheets

Wearable displays and the potential of harvesting energy from the body

It also appears that they are making a lightweight version of the HULC (Human Universla Load Carrier) Exoskeleton.

Dismounted warfighters often carry heavy combat loads that increase the stress on the body leading to potential injuries. With a HULC exoskeleton, these heavy loads are transferred to the ground through powered titanium legs without loss of mobility.

The HULC is a completely un-tethered, hydraulic-powered anthropomorphic exoskeleton that provides users with the ability to carry loads of up to 200 pounds for extended periods of time and over all terrains. Its flexible design allows for deep squats, crawls and upper-body lifting


More from the 2013 DAPRA Budget Justification

Warrior Web, previously funded in the Maintaining Combat Performance Thrust in PE 0602715E, Project MBT-02, will develop an adaptive, compliant, nearly transparent, quasi-active joint support system to mitigate acute injuries caused by physically demanding events common to missions such as airborne and air assault insertions. Warrior Web represents an expansion of capability beyond “lightening the load.” Warrior Web’s capability space is between biomechanics, robotics, physiology, and combat clothing. This program will result in technology that reduces the injuries sustained by soldiers. Allowing soldiers to perform their missions with reduced risk for injuries will have immediate effects on mission readiness, soldier survivability, and mission performance.

Component technologies will be in areas such as regenerative kinetics at joints and energy harvesting to offset power/energy demands; human performance, system, and component modeling; novel materials and dynamic stiffness; actuation; controls and human interface; and power distribution/energy storage. The final suit is planned to weigh no more than 20 pounds and require no more than 100W of external power.

FY 2013 Plans:
– Conduct core technologies Preliminary Design Review.
– Completion of preliminary core technology efforts: subsystem testing, analysis, and validated modeling.
– Initiate design of suit combining core technologies.
– Integrate core technologies into suit design.
– Begin critical design towards a prototype.

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