Many work related health problems caused by maneuvering heavy objects could be eliminated in the future if the highly-hyped power-assist suits AKA exoskeletons are designed, manufactured and tested successfully in a cost efficient way.
The futuristic outfits are expected to enhance natural abilities and prevent debilitating injuries by taking some of the load of your joints.
Many high-tech companies are in the process of researching and manufacturing exoskeletons.
You can always count on Japan to be getting involved; the Japanese tech giant- Panasonic- is about to release an exoskeleton that will help workers move objects more easily and with reduced risk of injury. The company collaborated with ActiveLink– a subsidiary company- to develop the high-tech suit.
The exoskeleton weighs around 13 pounds and can be fixed on the back, feet and thighs, enabling the user to carry an extra load of 33 pounds and make smaller loads easier. The device is being tested and tried by warehouse handlers and forestry workers in Osaka, Japan.
The Panasonic exoskeleton features a lightweight carbon-fiber motor which consists of sensors that read the users movement. The sensors activate the motor when the wearer starts to lift or carry an object. The two companies are also testing another, larger gear designed to help move loads above 200 pounds.
Another Japanese company that goes by the name; Cyberdyne (yes they named there company the same name of the tech company in the movie terminator, lol) has just started selling exoskeletons designed for industrial and medical use.
Using a technology developed at the University of Tsukuba, the company’s suits use nerve signals to detect the user’s intention to move an object before applying assistive force. Cyberdyne is also partnering with the Japanese automation company- Omron– to develop a ‘more assistive’ outfit for use in factories.
In Germany, a few companies are showing an interest in the exoskeleton technology. The German automobile manufacturer- BMW- is working with ergonomic scientists at the Technical University of Munich to produce a 3-D-printed device that can be worn on the thumb. The custom-made orthotic device can help workers perform repetitive tasks.
Not really a exoskeleton but on the same path….
Audi, also a German carmaker, is testing a wearable device that can provide back support. The Noonee-owned device targets workers who perform tasks that require repetitive crouching.
The exoskeleton technology is also being developed in US. One company called US Bionics is gearing up to commercialize two exoskeletons that will be used for rehabilitation and another for industrial puposes. Hamayoon Kazerooni– the company cofounder and also a professor at the University of California- says that the mechanical outfits are very lightweight, conform to the body shape and do not affect a person’s movement. The power-assist suits will also be cheap, according to Kazerooni.
People with spinal-cord injuries will have something to smile about when ReWalk starts selling its specialized exoskeleton. The Massachusetts-based company is targeting people who are confined to wheelchairs due to chronic back or spinal-cord injuries. The device is like crutches and is expected to help the victims enjoy a walk and even a maneuver such as scaling stairs and who knows what else in the very near future.
Also happeneing in the US, two Harvard University professors (Conor Walsh & Robert Wood) are using novel materials to develop much lighter exoskeletons. The outfits are also expected to be more comfortable in order to provide maximum assistance to the wearer, especially when in motion. According to the developer, the wearable devices will reshape the future of exoskeletons.
The U.S. military is also in the mix of developing power-assist mechanical outfits. These suits are hardcore, they enable marines to lift heavy objects with ease and to run longer while carrying weight!
The exoskeleton technology has been science fiction for quite some time, but by the look of things the technology is nearing reality. In addition to the above developments, there are a large number of exoskeletons being tested across the world. Some more fantastic and less cumbersome versions of mechanical outfits are expected to be introduced in the near future.
As it stands, most exoskeletons are available in the medical, manufacturing and military fields. But in the coming few years, the technology will move to other sectors where it is expected to make manual labor much easier.
Some sophisticated suits will reduce the negative effects of repetitive tasks and heavy lifting . Health conditions such as musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), back injury, trauma of the arm & hand, white finger and Raynaud’s syndrome could be reduced significantly.
According to developers of exoskeletons across the world, the mechanical suits will be very common in 15 years. They will be widely used and could later become part of people’s lives. The power-assists will be used for tasks and activities that require physical strength such as making deliveries, moving things, construction, public works, forestry,agriculture etc.