Exoskeletons are gaining momentum. Ready to become a robot?

With the appearance of a giant truck in a sci-Fi classic “Alien”, the idea that power the exoskeleton can allow a worker to carry superhuman weights is not allowed to sleep innovators in the field of heavy industry. Recent developments suggest that this idea can finally go into the real world.

The idea of exoskeletons, or wearable robotic suits, looks very attractive. To marry the strength of the mechanical robotics with the skills and abilities of humans, by eliminating the need to develop complicated AI to control robots.

How difficult is it to create an exoskeleton?

In reality it was not so simple. People work principally not as machines, therefore the design of the machines that will follow the principles of our movement and not to break our soft and slippery body, an extremely difficult task. And to the exoskeletons of simplified people’s lives, and did not add them reason for concern, they should be unobtrusive, and easy to adapt to a wide range of body sizes and shapes.

That is why, despite the first demonstrations in the 1960-ies, these devices are still uncommon in factories and factory. However, this may change. Earlier this month Ford announced that it plans to start selling exoskeletons from Ekso Bionics at 15 sites around the world after successful trials in the United States.

These devices are not as impressive as the power loader Ripley. EksoVest — mechanical frame without any power supply that only supports the hands of the workers, if they are raised above the head for long periods of time. Given the cost of the device in the area of $ 5,000, this is a great fixture because the cost of treatment of the damaged shoulder of the worker can be up to $ 100,000. And it suggests that we are moving from high-tech curiosity to a truly useful product.

The military is developing exoskeletons for a very long time, but despite decades of work, even the most advanced armed forces in the world have not yet mastered them. It is also subject to change: test the device to support the lower body ONYX from Lockheed Martin will begin this year. This device is attached to the legs and provides support to soldiers who carry up to 40 kilograms of cargo.

The first efforts for the conclusion of the exoskeletons in mass was intended to help people with disabilities get back on foot. In 2014, robotic suit ReWalk battery-powered was first approved for medical use by the FDA. The engines in the bends of knees and elbows to help people with paralysis of the limbs to move with crutches. Since then, several similar devices have been approved for medical use, but at the price of $ 100,000, they have not found wide application.

A new wave of devices focused on more narrow industrial application with simplified technologies and lower cost, to make it easier to start. EksoVest being tested at BMW and Boeing. EksoZeroG, the third robotic limb that can, ispolzovatj to support heavy power tools, is also being tested in various places in the United States.

Another company, diligently developing in this direction, it SuitX. It produces three different models of industrial exoskeletons to support different parts of the body. LegX $ 5,000 allows users to squat or bend for long periods of time without tiring and BackX for $ 4,000 helps to lift heavy loads. ShoulderX for $ 4000 supports above the head, like EksoVest. The suits were tested as Ford and Fiat. From Noonee Chairless Chair supports the lower body fixed in place, so users will be able to sit “in the air” — he was tested by Audi and BMW.

And it’s not just a cheap passive technologies that are ready to breakout. Unit Panasonic has announced that it will supply the exoskeleton Model Y for testing of construction company in Hong Kong.

In the beginning of this year Sarcos Robotics exoskeleton Guardian XO, able to lift 70 pounds, which is the closest to the power loader today announced that it is establishing a technical Advisory group consisting of leaders BMW, Caterpillar, Delta, and GE, among others, to explore industrial applications of the technology.

Among panic around the prospects of replacing people with machines on many jobs, are very encouraged by the fact that we can actually unite with robots, but not compete with them.

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