Backed by $10 million in Series A funding by Japanese venture firm Global Brain, California-based robotics start-up Superflex hopes to solve mobility issues in our aging population. Initially focused on the U.S. market, which will see its 65-and-over baby boomer generation double from 48 million to 88 million in the next three decades, Superflex has created a wearable super suit that helps the elderly with everyday tasks.
Whether it’s standing up from a chair or simply raising an object above the wearer’s head, the sensor-equipped, computer-controlled super suit can track the posture and movement of the body – rapidly processing data to recognize common strenuous activities in those with mobility issues.
Intelligent Wearable Strength
Originally developed by SRI International as part of an innovative program to prevent injuries in soldier carrying heavy loads, Silicon Valley’s Superflex hopes to launch its disruptive smart suit by the end of 2018. “We’re interested in helping people with general independence, people who are starting to lose confidence in their mobility,” Rick Mahoney, co-founder and chief executive officer said, in an interview with The Verge. “We’re calling it ‘intelligent wearable strength’.”
Lightweight, comfortable and designed to seamlessly fit under clothing, Superflex’s “strength-amplifying suit” is still in the concept phase but its main focus is to “help those who have trouble moving on their own,” according to Mahoney. Issues with ergonomic design elements and a power source seem to be the two biggest obstacles facing Superflex.
The Wearable Tech Industry
Thankfully, the wearable technology market is growing by leaps and bounds. This will allow Superflex to marry its own technology with wearable tech innovation. For example, according to a recent iReviews article, scientists at Georgia Institute of Technology have created a textile that can be sewn into fabric and then used to power gadgets. It does this by storing energy from the sun and in everyday motion. If you’re indoors, the fabric harnesses energy through motion. If outdoors, the fabric draws from the sun. Wherever you go, energy is being generated.
“The objective was to harvest energy from our living environment, for example, human walking or muscle movement and fabrics; the goal is to drive small electronics,” said Zhong Lin Wang, a Nanotechnologists from Georgia Tech who authored the study. When asked why his energy storing fabric is the center of so much attention, Wang said, “Because these days, flexible electronics, wearable electronics, have become very popular and fashionable today. But each of them needs a power source.”
Standalone Assistive Apparel
Mahoney, who worked as the head of robotics at SRI International, wants to focus initially on the U.S. baby boomer market but also has his eyes set on Japan. With one-quarter of the Japanese population over 65, people are going to need technology to make their lives a bit easier, especially if they have limited mobility.
“We’re not helping soldiers fight aliens or leap from buildings. We want people to live a more productive an confident life.”
Mahoney expects that the powered clothing will be fully standalone, without requiring the wearer to interact with any kind of external computer or mobile app. That will certainly alleviate any concern around operating a power suit using the latest smartphone technology.