A new robotic suit may be a game-changer for everyone from soldiers to the elderly to those who have suffered from an injury or illness.
It's called the Superflex. It looks just like your average run-of-the-mill superhero suit. And that's basically what it is. The suit comes complete with motion sensors, accelerometers and gyroscopes that instantly calculate the speed and angles of the wearer's body to adjust its support accordingly.
The Superflex suit's built-in sensors send a jolt of power to the arms, legs or torso right when it's needed. (Photo: SRI International)
The suit was developed with the military in mind — to help soldiers in combat situations avoid injuries and conserve energy while lifting heavy objects. The team behind the suit is now developing a commercial version that can be used to help the elderly or the disabled walk without walkers and lift without injury. The soft, flexible suit works by reading the wearer's movements and sending a boost of power to the arms, legs or torso right when it's needed.
My first thought when I saw the suit was that there was no way any self-respecting grandma would be caught wearing this thing. But the pic above is obviously the "glamour shot" of the Superflex. This more realistic image shows how this suit could be worn under clothing while still providing full-body support.
Manish Kothari — head of SRI Ventures, the research team behind the Superflex — observed how this hidden technology could turn the elderly into superheroes, ”If you could get my 99-year-old grandfather to wear a piece of clothing that no one can see and it is actually helping him walk without a walker, that’s essentially Superman-type activity,” he told TechCrunch.
The Superflex isn't the first robotic suit designed to give humans superhero strength. But it's soft design and natural motion make it easier and more practical for users to wear. The sensors and shorts bursts of power also allow the suit to sip battery life and last longer between charges than its predecessors.
The Superflex is still in development for commercialized design, so there's no word yet on when it will be available or how much it might cost. But Kothari noted that affordability has been a primary goal of the design process. So keep your eyes open for Superflex to hit store shelves near you. You'll know it has arrived when you see a pile of walkers tossed to the curb in front of your local retirement home.