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Science Fiction Books/"Reverse" exoskeletal suit used to teach movements?


Hello. I have an idea for a science fiction invention. It might be called a "teaching suit." I am trying to flesh out my idea and make it more realistic. Ultimately, I hope to be able to imagine enough to describe the experiences of a character who is using the suit she was issued with. She is using it it to train in disciplines of military physical training, parade ground drill and ceremonies, martial arts, and the like.

A "teaching suit," if it were real, could be described as a sort of "reverse" application of the kinds of technologies usually contemplated for strength-amplifying exoskeletons and battlesuits.

Here, I define exoskeletons as open-framed machines of adjustable size that are not necessarily for military use.

By contrast, one might say that battlesuits would be sealable, human sized robotic assemblages with onboard audiovisual interfaces, helmets, complex arrangements of integral weapons and equipment, and the like.

By contrast, "teaching suits" are designed for technological assistance to help people get those physical skills of the type that are mostly learned by repeatedly performing the same motions. Rather than mimicking the wearer's movements with mechanical muscles -- according to a logarithmic scale -- the teaching suit would do the reverse, helping to guide and encourage the wearer's body through the proper motions.

If I had an exoskeleton or a battlesuit, then I would move my body and the suit would move. With a teaching suit, it would be the suit that moved me.

The suit pushes against the user's body and even applies functional electrical stimulation (FES), to the degree that that techniques may be helpful. Teaching suits can ONLY help with learning somatic skills based on physical motion. They cannot help with mental skills in the usual sense, other than how to correct posture and muscle tension. On the other hand, teaching suit gloves can be used for instruction in fine motor activities such as calligraphy. To create the program that runs the teaching suit, motion sensors are attached to the bodies of several experts in the skill which is to be taught. A computer then records each movement for later "playback" through the teaching suit. When donned by a student, the suit first administers drugs, to relax certain muscles as necessary and also to increase the receptivity of certain lower brain regions. The teaching suit program is fine-tuned to correct for people's differences in user size, shape, weight, and neuromuscular morphology. Then, the suit pushes against the student's body and guides the student through the proper motions. At first this is done slowly, but it gradually comes to involve faster and more complicated routines. Without the suit, students can then practice their techniques on their own or with a teacher. The more difficult the physical skill that you want to learn, the more that specific program required for the suit will cost. The suit itself costs the equivalent of about $60,000 in today's money. If unplugged, it requires a battery the size of a thick book, on which it can run for 100 hours of typical use. It is the mid-2180s. Suits like this have been available since before 2050. They are still used because of low cost, easy, repair, smaller logistics footprint, and far lower power requirements -- when compared to more elaborate and modern neural interface dreamgames that access the brain directly and download data straight to the sensorium. Besides, those sense things can have bad psychological side effects.

Can you help me BEGIN to imagine traits such as the nature of the components layered within the suit, its handling characteristics, or the feelings produced by wearing it? I am having a lot of trouble guessing at things like the color, internal and external textures, the smells, and the weight of the textile or textiles. I have to admit, though, that I imagine lots of micro-electromechanical systems towards the INSIDE, without  large bulges and motors and actuators visible on the outside. Certainly this technological outgrowth would be on the same lineage tree as today's Hybrid Assistive Limb -- it does not resemble SARCOS or HULC. If you were to switch off the suit, remove it, and try to flex the textile layers with your fingers, I image the textile layers would move and then return to neutral position. I don't know if its using electroactive polymers, rheopectic fluids, or compressed air.

Thank you very much for all your time and attention.

What a great idea - within two decades this will no doubt become science fiction, not science fact.  If you can flesh it out enough, apply for a patent.  No kidding.

Suggest you contact a university mechanical engineering department.  The one doing the closest stuff to what you describe is MIT.  Talk with grad students who are actually working on this stuff.  They have an exoskeleton project, as do several other universities.  I think Berkeley has one, too.  Good luck.

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Sue Kayton


Engineer who has read thousands of science fiction books and short stories. Can recommend stories on specific subjects and comment on technical feasibility. Especially good at older out-of-print books and authors.

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