Exoskeletons, making light of it
Exoskeletons designed to assist human endeavours have been visible in science fiction movies for a number of years, appearing in films such as Aliens 2, where Sigourney Weaver, playing the character Ripley, battled a giant alien queen and more recently Elysium with Matt Damon. The military powers of this world have also been exploring exoskeleton use, with varying levels of success, the downfall often being the amount and weight of necessary battery power to operate their designs over an extended deployment. As technology develops in the realms of battery and power delivery the reality of seeing exoskeletons such as the one in Elysium, might not be too far from reality at all.
Busting a move
In France, there is a couple of companies, Exhauss and RB3D, who have developed a varied selection of exoskeletons designed to assist a manual workforce. Exhauss has an extensive range of products aimed at repetitive tasks or those that require a little more power and rely on mechanical support rather than a motor or a pneumatic driven system.
The Worker Exoskeleton in Action
The Model W – Worker, is ideal for industrial employees who are required to operate tools such as pneumatic tools, riveting machines, chain saws and are also ideal or for repetitive tasks that involve heavy items, such as in an assembly process.
Then there is the Model A – Assembler, ideally suited for repetitive tasks, packing, the building of sub-assemblies. Also, due for release soon is the Model P- Power, as you may have guessed, this model offers the ability to handle loads up to 25kg, making those weights feel almost weightless to the user. They also offer exoskeleton outfits designed specifically for use in the film industry in their repertoire coined the CINE-MAKER.
Meanwhile RB3D, who manufacture many different types of handling equipment in their COBOTS range, have taken the lower-body route with their exoskeleton design, their machine Hercule V3, is designed to accommodate the needs of personnel who have to carry heavy loads on a regular basis in an industrial environment and departing from the mechanical exoskeletons offered by Exhauss, the HERCULE V3 is battery powered.
The Hercule V3
The HERCULE V3, in essence, is a powerful pair of legs, with a supporting tray that allows the user to carry a load, or affix a tool, hands-free, thus reducing operator fatigue. This lower body exoskeleton has a maximum payload of 40kg, offering 14 degrees of freedom, 4 of which are motorised, can walk at up to 5km/h, weighs in a 30kg and can operate for around 4 hours on its existing power source before recharging is needed.
Lurking within those electrical cable actuators and aluminium chassis is the brain of the HERCULE, powered by an ARM Cortex-A8, which monitors and controls the electrical system. Featuring two modes of operation, Dress/Undress being the first, the stage when a load is applied to the tray and the user straps themselves in using the dorsal harness and shoe straps, and Action, which is the movement ability allowing the user to walk comfortably on flat surfaces and a slope of up to 10 degrees, squat down, climbs stairs or even sit down. The HERCULE V3 is available in 3 sizes, small, medium and large and is suitable for use by people of body weights from 60 to 100kg
Although this is only a snippet of what is out there, the potential and growth of exoskeleton use are obvious, as can be seen in this video:
From exoskeleton suits for those with spinal damage that enables them to walk and lead a more active life to the prototype virtual gaming suit by Axon, this video demonstrates, despite, for now, some Science Fiction ideas, that the future is bright for this growing tech, and personally, I really want to try out that VR outfit!