Today, LG announced that it will reveal its first robotic exoskeleton at IFA 2018, which takes place in Berlin from August 31st to September 5th. The exoskeleton, called LG CLOi SuitBot, is designed to support a user's legs to allow for more limb strength This robot differs from the others that LG has announced because it is a robotic exoskeleton that you can wear, not a robot. It features rotating joints and sandal-type shoes with automatic adjustments, which help users enter and exit the exoskeleton more easily. It's designed to be a comfortable fit and provide natural enhancement while walking, standing and working. It can give people who lift heavy objects or operate heavy tools a boost.
Robotic exoskeletons are back in the news after Ford ordered 75 robotic suits from Ekso Bionics, as reported by my colleague. The relatively small number of orders belies the significance of this moment for a fantastically advanced set of technologies that have been searching for a viable market for over a decade now. Wearable robots that augment human strength have attracted big investment money, but the use case has been harder to pinpoint. The Ford deal follows successful trials of Ekso's EksoVest, one of the company's newer enterprise offerings targeting manufacturing and industries that require workers to lift heavy loads, such as large tools. The pitch is reduced strain on employees resulting in fewer injuries.
For decades robotic exoskeletons were the subject of science fiction novels and movies. But in recent years, exoskeleton technology has made huge progress towards reality and exciting research projects and new companies have surfaced. Typical applications of today's exoskeletons are stroke therapy or support of users with a spinal cord injury, or industrial applications, such as back support for heavy lifting or power tool operation. And while the field is growing quickly, it is currently not easy to get involved. Learning materials or exoskeleton courses or classes are not widely available yet.
In a small startup space just down the street from UC Berkeley's campus, robotics pioneer Homayoon Kazerooni is bragging about how no-frills his invention is. "We're trying to make the Honda," he says, "not the sportscar." Kazerooni is showing me his latest robotic exoskeleton that gives paraplegics and people with mobility problems the ability to stand up from their wheelchairs and walk again. He's been building such bionic systems for more than a decade, and back in 2005 he cofounded Ekso Bionics, the current market leader for exoskeletons. So it's no surprise that Kazerooni says the new device from his new company, SuitX, is the most advanced yet.