Exoskeletons are gaining momentum. Ready to be a robot?

Since the appearance of the giant loader inthe sci-fi classic "Aliens", the idea that power exoskeletons could allow workers to carry superhuman weights, did not allow innovators in the field of heavy industry to sleep in peace. Recent developments suggest that this idea can finally move into the real world.

The idea of ​​exoskeleton, or wearable roboticsuits looks very attractive. Replace the power of mechanical robotics with the skills and abilities of humans, eliminating the need to develop sophisticated AI for controlling robots.

How difficult is it to create an exoskeleton?

In reality, everything was not so simple. People work fundamentally differently from cars, so designing cars that will follow the principles of our movements and not break our soft and slippery bodies is an extremely difficult task. And in order for exoskeletons to simplify people's lives, and not to give them cause for concern, they must be unobtrusive, light and adapt to a wide range of body size and shape.

That is why, despite the first demonstrations still in1960s, these devices are still uncommon in factories and factories. However, this may change. Earlier this month, Ford announced that it plans to begin selling exoskeletons from Ekso Bionics at 15 sites around the world after successful tests in the United States.

These devices will not be as impressive asRipley's power loader. EksoVest is a mechanical frame without any power that simply supports the hands of workers if they are raised above their heads for long periods of time. Given the cost of the device in the region of $ 5,000, this is an excellent device, because the cost of treating an employee’s damaged shoulder can be up to $ 100,000. And this suggests that we are moving from high-tech curiosity to a truly useful product.

The military develop exoskeletons a long time ago, butdespite decades of work, even the most advanced armed forces in the world have not yet mastered them. This may also change: Lockheed Martin’s ONYX lower body support tests 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 to bring exoskeletons to the masses wereaimed at helping people with disabilities to get back on their feet. In 2014, the battery-powered ReWalk robotic suit was the first to be approved for FDA medical use. Engines in the bends of the knees and elbows help people with paralysis of the limbs move with crutches. Since then, several more such devices have been approved for medical use, but at a price of about $ 100,000, they have not found wide application.

A new wave of devices is focused on morenarrow industrial applications with simplified technology and low cost to make it easier to start. EksoVest is being tested by BMW and Boeing. EksoZeroG, a robotic third limb that can be used to support heavy power tools, is also being tested in various places in the United States.

Another company diligently developing in thisdirection, this is SuitX. It produces three different models of industrial exoskeleton to support different parts of the body. LegX for $ 5,000 allows users to squat or bend over long periods of time without getting tired, and BackX for $ 4,000 helps to lift heavy loads. ShoulderX for 4000 dollars supports work on the head, like EksoVest. The costumes were tested both by Ford and Fiat. Noonee's chairless chair supports the lower case fixed in place, so users can sit “in the air” - it was tested by Audi and BMW.

And these are not just cheap passive technologies that are ready for a breakthrough. The Panasonic division has announced that it will supply the Model Y exoskeleton for testing a construction company in Hong Kong.

Earlier this year, Sarcos Robotics withthe exoskeleton Guardian XO, capable of lifting 70 kilograms, which is as close as possible to the power loader today, announced that it is creating a technical advisory group made up of BMW, Caterpillar, Delta and GE executives, among others, to study industrial technology applications.

Amid the panic around the prospect of replacing people with machines at a variety of jobs, it’s very encouraging that we can actually integrate with robots, rather than compete with them.

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