As military and heavy-lifting applications for robotic exoskeletons get closer to reality, the latest trend in wearable machinery is helping the elderly and those with limited mobility get back on their feet. Like their colleagues/competitors at Harvard and ReWalk Robotics, the team behind the Superflex have developed a soft robotic exosuit that could do everything from heavy lifting on the battlefield to replacing grandma's walker.
While it's not the first powered exosuit in development, the Superflex has an extra "smart" trick up it's robotic sleeve. The onboard sensors actually learn the way each individual wearer moves and then uses that information to turn on the power at the precise moment when the wearer needs it. The result is a longer battery life and, eventually a less bulky set of body-mounted machinery. The main idea, SRI Ventures president Manish Kothari told the MIT Technology Review, is to empower users and "remove all of those areas that cause psychological-type encumbrances and, ultimately, redignify the individual." Which is a polite way of saying the company wants to make you feel like a superhuman once you put it on.
The Superflex team, which was spun off from the SRI International nonprofit, doesn't yet have a concrete date for a marketable version of the suit, but they are currently seeking partners to commercialize the prototype.