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You don’t have to be Superman to deflect bullets off your chest. Scientists have developed a way of bulking up an ordinary T-shirt to create wearable armor. By splicing the carbon in the cotton with boron, the third hardest material on the planet, researchers at the University of South Carolina markedly increased the fabric’s toughness. The result is a lightweight shirt reinforced with boron carbide—the same material used to shield military tanks.
Sure, it isn’t the Batsuit, but Harvardengineers are working on a “novel wearable system” that could prolong the physical endurance of soldiers in the field. As the beneficiaries of a Wayne Industries-sized $2.6 million grant from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the university’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering has been charged with developing a smart suit that improves the body’s resistance to injuries while delaying the onset of fatigue. Lightweight, efficient, and nonrestrictive, the proposed suit will comprise soft, wearable assistive devices that integrate several Wyss Institute technologies, including a stretchable sensor that monitors the body’s biomechanics without the need for rigid, motion-restricting components.
It doesn’t shoot web fluid from its wrists, but Victor Mateevitsi’s high-tech bodysuit could be the closest thing you’ll get to experiencing real-life “Spidey sense.” Inspired by Spider-Man—and the tingly sensation the comic superhero feels when danger is close—”SpiderSense” could allow the visually impaired to sense and avoid obstacles in their vicinity. Doctor Octopus himself would approve of its construction. The suit features small robotic arms encased in microphone-equipped modules that send and receive ultrasonic reflections from adjacent objects. When the ultrasound detects someone (or something) moving closer, the arms respond by placing pressure on the part of the body closest to the “threat.”
For paraplegics looking to gain mobility, NASA’s X1 robotic exoskeleton could be a real-life superhero suit. Designed to help astronauts maintain muscle health in space, the 57-pound device can either assist or inhibit movement in the joints of the leg. But the X1, which space agency compares to the powered armor favored by Iron Man, has potential applications on Earth, as well, including rehabilitation, gait modification, and offloading large amounts of weight from the wearer.