Tony Stark used exotic composites, metal alloys, and other Hollywood-only make-believe materials to build his armor-plated Iron Man suit. But researchers at Harvard University's Wyss Institute, constrained by the limitations of reality, took a different approach with a muscle-enhancing exoskeleton that could one day be as comfy to wear as your favourite pair of jeans.
Working with a $US2.6 million grant from DARPA's Warrior Web Program, the Harvard researchers have been developing their suit as a way to give soldiers enhanced stamina in the field. Using a series of air bladders and engineered fabrics to strengthen, support, and assist muscles, the 8kg suit — not including the air pump backpack — can actually make a soldier about three times as strong. However, there are no rigid parts to strengthen bones, so lifting something extremely heavy would still be dangerous.
But as a way to help a soldier march longer and farther, even over challenging terrain, the suit could one day be perfected to the point where it could be worn under a standard uniform, only coming to life as it was needed. Side note: does anyone else think DARPA is actually just developing a real-life superhero?