Robotic Exoskeletons: The Future Is Here

robotic exoskeleton
Image Credit: Exoskeleton Report

The world is advancing at a rapid pace with innovations coming from all sides and robotic exoskeletons are making headlines. Not too long ago these “power suits” were nothing more than science-fiction but not anymore. Thanks to enhanced technology and advanced engineering, exoskeletons are becoming increasingly popular across several sectors.

Today, robotic exoskeletons are a far cry from the power loader that Ellen Ripley used in the acclaimed Alien movie. At the same time, they are not what you would call, an “Iron Man” suit as depicted by the Marvel franchise. However, we have seen tremendous development over the last few years as shown at CES 2019 and 2020. The latest update comes from Sarcos’ Guardian XO full robotic suit.

Guardian XO Robotic Exoskeletons

At CES 2019, Sarcos revealed their latest technology in robotic exoskeletons and at this year’s event, they announced pilot trials for Delta Airlines employees. They will be among the first workers to use a powered-powered suit that will essentially give them superhuman strength.

These robotic exoskeletons are force-multiplying wearable robots that carry their own substantial weight and an additional 200 pounds (91 kg) of payload. This means humans can lift heavy objects for extended periods of time without any physical strain or fatigue.

According to Sarcos, it takes about 30 seconds to put on or remove the Guardian XO. It responds to operator movements in milliseconds while increasing a person’s strength by up to 20 times. These advanced robotic exoskeletons offer wearers eight hours of battery power and have a hot-swapping battery system. This capability allows users to extend operational time considerably without any downtime.

Developing The Guardian XO

Delta Airlines have been a member of the technical advisory group at Sarcos since 2018. They are the first company with frontline employees working with Sarcos to identify operational uses for the Guardian XO.

After substantial research and development, it is now ready and field tests will take place during the first quarter of 2020 at a pilot location. Robotic exoskeletons can be used in a range of applications including handling freight at warehouses, moving heavy components at maintenance centres and lifting heavy machinery.

At Delta, the goal is to ease the burden while improving the productivity of certified workers. They also intend to determine whether the Guardian XO tech could level the playing field for anyone who may not meet traditional physical strength requirements to perform lifting tasks.

How Does The Guardian XO Measure Up?

The Guardian XO checks a few important boxes and being user-friendly is just one of them. A high degree of sensor-based automation allows the robotic suit to seamlessly match user movements. Besides the ease of putting it on and taking it off, it only takes a few hours to feel comfortable doing work in the suit.

Their primary target is the manufacturing sector where workers have to constantly move heavy stuff around. They suggest the system will cost $100,000 per year to rent and while that may seem like a large chunk of change, it’s a small investment especially for industrial or military purposes.

Speaking of military applications, Sarcos CEO, Ben Wolff, said that their exoskeleton could see military use but not for “Advanced Warfare”. It will mainly be associated with logistics, lifting and moving heavy loads, as it is not designed to be armoured.

Robotic Exoskeletons And Disabilities

Even though there are relatively few affordable robotic exoskeleton prototypes, the list is getting longer.  Besides helping workers and military personnel, these suits can greatly benefit people with a range of physical disabilities. It can also be used by their nurses or caregivers to ease the load.

With an eye on the medical sector, governments could start providing robotic exoskeletons to all first responders including fire-fighters, EMS and disaster personnel. Here are a few interesting developments in the world of exoskeletons:

Did You Know?

It’s more than just those with disabilities or injuries who will benefit from robotic exoskeletons. In fact, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), there will be more than 2 billion people over the age of 60 by 2050. Exoskeletons could provide countless benefits to the world’s ageing population.

As our bodies wear down with age, exoskeletons which are powered by our own minds could one day help us stay on our feet. It’s easy to understand why the global medical exoskeleton market will be worth around $2.8 billion by 2023 (Markets and Markets).

Interesting Read: ‘Paralyzed Man Breaks World Record For Finishing A Marathon In An Exoskeleton Suit

Final Thoughts

Overall, robotic exoskeletons are highly impressive machines that are designed to help humans with lifting tasks. They make difficult or impossible tasks easier than using conventional lifting machinery.

Sarcos introduced the Alpha version of the Guardian XO in December 2019 and will deliver some of their robotic exoskeletons to the US military and advisory group member this month. As for commercial units, these will likely be available later this year.

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