Smart clothing company Superflex, a spinoff of research and technology company SRI International, has raised $9.6 million in Series A funding in a round led by Global Brain. Seed investors Horizons Ventures and Root Ventures also participated, along with Sinovation Ventures.
The funding will be used to further develop Superflex’s powered clothing, which is lightweight apparel equipped with electrical sensors and motors designed to aid the wearer with strength and mobility. The target population is seniors, athletes or people with physical disabilities, and the intention is for the powered suit to be worn under clothes and deliver a boost of strength or range of motion when the wearer needs it.
For example, the suit will step in to when someone needs a little help getting out of a chair or lifting something heavy. By delivering core wellness support for the wearer’s torso, hips and legs, the suit will react the body’s natural movements and provide power to complement the wearer’s strength.
The technology wasn’t originally created for the average person – it was developed at SRI for a Defense Advance Research Projects Agency (DARPA)-funded program to reduce injury and enhance endurance for soldiers. But developers realized it could also be useful outside of the military (especially for the aging population, wherein one-third of seniors have limitations with mobility). Thus, Superflex spun out of SRI to develop the consumer product, which they anticipate will be released in the coming months.
“Our origins are in robotics, our future is as an apparel company,” Superflex Cofounder and CEO Rich Mahoney said in a statement. “We’ll combine comfort and style with power assist for clothes that look good and help people feel good. Our powered clothing will give people the ability to move more freely, to gain strength and confidence, to be more injury-free in the workplace, to achieve higher levels of wellness and social engagement, and to stay in the home longer.”
Lead investor Global Brain, which is based in Japan, was attracted to Superflex due to the country’s high population of seniors. In addition to funding the project, Global Brain will also work with Superflex to set up a Japanese office to facilitate the company’s entrée into their domestic market.
“We’ve looked at dozens of companies across the world for one that would truly stand to benefit the Japanese market, and this is the only one that has met our criteria,” Global Brain CEO Yasuhiko Yurimoto said in a statement. “Superflex’s new category of ‘powered clothing’ represents, in our view, the future of movement, with profound physical and emotional benefits.”