Space & Innovation

10 Exoskeletons to Make You Superhuman

We look at some of the most cutting-edge exoskeletons and how they're advancing science and society.

Some real-life Iron Man suits empower users with superhero capabilities, such as lifting heavy objects and boosting stamina and endurance. Other exoskeletons give real hope to patients suffering from various injuries and could even help a person walk again. Here’s a closer look at some of the most cutting-edge exoskeleton and how they're advancing science and society. Above: The two-armed robotic exoskeleton named Harmony uses mechanical feedback and sensor data to provide therapy to patients with spinal and neurological injuries. Developed by researchers at the Cockrell School of Engineering at the University of Texas at Austin, Harmony aims to provide full upper-body therapy with a degree of natural motion to help patients, say, eat and dress themselves.

Eyes have been on Raytheon Sarcos’s second-generation exoskeleton robotics suit, XOS 2, for quite some time. Currently in development, the wearable robotic suit increases the human strength, agility and endurance capabilities of the person wearing it. XOS 2 uses high-pressure hydraulics to help the wearer repeatedly lift heavy objects.

The U.S. Army is developing an exoskeleton called MAXFAS, also known as the Mobile Arm Exoskeleton for Firearm Aim Stabilization, to automatically steady a soldier’s firing arm. The technology actively senses and cancels out arm trembling and keeps the shooter’s arm free to point at targets.

In June 2014, a young adult paralyzed from the waist down kicked off the World Cup in an exoskeleton, The Walk Again Project, led by Dr. Miguel Nicolelis, is a nonprofit collaboration with Duke University and the Technical University of Munich, among others. The exoskeleton is mind-controlled. As a result, the exoskeleton's steps were controlled by the paralyzed wearer's thoughts.

Lockheed Martin’s untethered, hydraulic-powered anthropomorphic exoskeleton called HULC provides users with the ability to carry loads of up to 200 pounds for extended periods of time and over all terrains. It enables fighters to carry heavy combat loads with the help of powered titanium legs and an onboard micro-computer that ensures the suit moves in concert with the individual.

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon and North Carolina State have developed an unpowered ankle exoskeleton to reduce the overall metabolic rate of walking. Intended to help people who have had a stroke walk more easily, the clutch engages a spring in parallel with the Achilles tendon to offload force from the calf.

The Fortis exoskeleton, also developed by Lockheed Martin, boasts an advanced ergonomic design that moves naturally with the body to allow users to use heavy tools as if they were weightless. Wearers can effortlessly hold heavy hand tools and benefit from an increase in productivity while reducing muscle fatigue.

Panasonic’s Power Loader Light exoskeleton increases the leg strength of the wearer by up to 88 pounds. The aluminum-alloy frame weighs in at a hefty 84 pounds, but allegedly provides great strength to the legs for heavy lifting.

The Titan Arm, a portable, affordable exoskeleton designed to augment strength and provide resistance during therapeutic exercises, allows the wearer to lift an additional 40 pounds with minimal effort. It was developed by engineering students at the University of Pennsylvania. The $2,000 prototype aims to help stroke victims and others faced with debilitating injuries.

ReWalk, developed by Argo Medical Technologies, is the first motorized exoskeleton cleared by the FDA for personal use. Designed to help people with lower body paralysis from spinal cord injury, ReWalk provides a wearable brace support, a computer-based control system and motion sensors. Users can stand, walk and climb stairs with some motorized help.