Ever since the appearance of the power loader in the sci-fi classic Aliens, the idea that powered exoskeletons could let workers carry superhuman weights has enticed executives in heavy industry. Recent developments suggest the idea might finally be moving into the real world.
The idea behind exoskeletons, or wearable robotics, seems like a no-brainer. Marry the power of mechanical robotics with the ready-made smarts and adaptability of humans, removing the need to develop sophisticated AI to control your robots.
Earlier this month, Ford announced that it plans to roll out the use of exoskeletons made by Ekso Bionics at 15 facilities worldwide after successful trials in the US.
The EksoVest is a completely unpowered mechanical frame that simply helps support workers’ arms when they’re held over their heads for long periods of time.
But considering the device costs in the region of only $5,000, that’s not bad, particularly when the cost of rehabilitating a worker’s injured shoulder can cost up to $100,000. And it’s a sign that these devices might be making the transition from high-tech curiosity to a genuinely useful product.
Amid the panic around the prospect of humans being replaced by machines in a host of jobs, it’s reassuring to see signs that we may in fact be teaming up with robots rather than competing against them.
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