What's the most important thing for people to know about the full-body exoskeleton from Sarcos Robotics, which can turn an assembly-line worker into a superhero? "We're taking orders," says Sarcos CEO Ben Wolff. The company has been working on this wearable robotics technology since 2000, when engineers in its Salt Lake City headquarters began cobbling together experimental supersoldier suits for the U.S. military. A 2010 proto type, which enabled the wearer to punch through wooden boards, earned the nickname "the Iron Man suit" in homage to the high-tech gear in the eponymous comic book and movies. But that bulky version kept the user tethered to the wall by a power cord--something that would presumably interfere with superhero activities--and the suit remained in R&D.
Human-centered design of wearable robots involves the development of innovative science and technologies that minimize the mismatch between humans’ and machines’ capabilities, leading to their intuitive integration and confluent interaction. Here, we summarize our human-centered approach to the design of closed-loop brain-machine interfaces (BMI) to powered prostheses and exoskeletons that allow people to act beyond their impaired or diminished physical or sensory-motor capabilities. The goal is to develop multifunctional human-machine interfaces with integrated diagnostic, assistive and therapeutic functions. Moreover, these complex human-machine systems should be effective, reliable, safe and engaging and support the patient in performing intended actions with minimal effort and errors with adequate interaction time. To illustrate our approach, we review an example of a user-in-the-loop, patient-centered, non-invasive BMI system to a powered exoskeleton for persons with paraplegia. We conclude with a summary of challenges to the translation of these complex human-machine systems to the end-user.
But the workers who assemble those trucks in Ford's manufacturing plants are subject to human frailties. They can suffer from back and shoulder pain as a result of carrying out the repetitive tasks required by their jobs, particularly as they work on chassis suspended above them. Ford estimates that some assembly workers lift their arms about 4,600 times per day, or about 1 million times per year. So workers on Ford's assembly lines in two U.S. factories are getting some extra help. In a pilot project, the workers are suiting up with the EksoVest, an upper body exoskeleton from the Bay Area company Ekso Bionics.
Following successful trials, Ford will now offer employees the use of exoskeletons to reduce the strain of factory work. Despite the emergence of Industry 4.0, smart factories, sensors, and data analytics, much of the heavy-duty operations of today's industrial and manufacturing still rely heavily on human input. Over time, the physical demand of such work can cause injury, muscle stress, and accidents. However, Ford hopes that by augmenting our bodies, exoskeletons may be able to reduce some of the strain. Last year, the US automaker began trials at select factories that revolved around the use of the EskoVest, an exoskeleton designed by Ekso Bionics.
Robotic exoskeletons could help people with cerebral palsy maintain the ability to walk -- and offer a replacement for costly and invasive orthopedic procedures. Cerebral palsy is the leading cause of childhood disability in the United States, affecting about 3.3 children per 1,000 births. The neurological disorder is a lifelong affliction that can have a devastating impact on an individual's mobility, even when managed well with current physical and occupational therapies. But a new robotic design could significantly improve mobility outcomes. A recent study in the journal Science Translational Medicine found that wearing a robotic exoskeleton – a leg brace powered by small motors – helped children achieve significant mobility improvement.