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WASHINGTON: Adhesive patches that monitor your health by analyzing chemicals in your sweat. A flexible sheet of radio-receiving electronics you can bend into different shapes to pick up different wavelengths, nicknamed the “origami antenna.” A strength-boosting exoskeleton that detects the tiny electrical charge just before your muscles flex, then moves with you by inflating artificial muscles that one of the inventors likened to “very robust party balloons.”

These are all real examples, now in testing, of what’s called soft robotics or flexible hybrid electronics: miniaturized, ultra-thin electronics printed onto flexible fabric. (It’s a form of additive manufacturing). The US military sees potential here for everything from lightweight drones to wearable health monitors to exoskeletons for combat troops. Now that Special Operations Command has abandoned its TALOS project to build Iron Man-style powered armor, soft robotics — either on their own or in combination with rigid exoskeletons — may be the best bet for a revolution in soldier protection and augmentation.

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