Depending on how you look at it, Iron Man has the most bad-ass exoskeleton ever imagined and we think it's about time some real-life geniuses developed something similar for the non-comic book world. Thankfully, we have the incredible minds at NASA for that and it just so happens they've been hard at work on the X1 Robotic Exoskeleton.
Obviously, their early version of Iron Man's armor isn't being designed for crime-fighting, but that doesn't mean the X1 doesn't have a suite of real-world applications. Not only could it help astronauts get some exercise while their hanging out in zero gravity, it could also be extremely beneficial to paraplegics and others dealing with similar disabilities.
Derived in part from the Robonaut 2 humanoid robot, the X1 uses similar robotic technology that could aid future astronauts by providing augmented strength in situations where, for instance, increased gravitational forces make even the task of wearing a spacesuit unbearable. Here on Earth that augmented strength could assist paraplegics whose lower bodies don't have the strength to carry them, which could hinder necessary physical rehabilitation.
"Robotics is playing a key role aboard the International Space Station and will be critical in our future human exploration of deep space," said Michael Gazarik, director of NASA's Space Technology Program."What's extraordinary about space technology and our work with projects like Robonaut are the unexpected possibilities space tech spinoffs may have right here on Earth. It's exciting to see a NASA-developed technology might one day help people with serious ambulatory needs to begin to walk again, or even walk for the first time. That's the sort of return on investment NASA is proud to give back to America and the world."
The 57-pound exoskeleton is is worn over the legs, staying up thanks to a harness worn over the back and shoulders. Assisted movement is achieved through four motorized joints at the hips and knees along with six passive joints for turning and flexing the foot.
What's most interesting is that the suit has two modes. Not only can it virtually increase ones strength, but it can also limit it. You're probably wondering why that feature would be appealing at all. What fun is a robotic exoskeleton that makes you weaker? Well, its actually a great way for astronauts to exercise. Spending extended periods of time in weightlessness can cause muscles to atrophy, bones to lose strength and even cause the heart to weaken. Because of this exercise is a necessary part of space exploration and the X1 could force astronauts to work harder while they go about their daily routine. For paraplegics the inhibit feature could be used for things like correcting gait problems.
The X1 is still a work in progress at this point, but researchers are moving forward, currently looking for ways to increase amount of joints in the hip and ankle sections to make the device more effective.
Watch the video below to see the X1 Robotic Exoskeleton in action!