In the present-day United States, it is no longer uncommon to see futuristic technology in the workplace. A decade or so ago, tablets were luxuries, smartphones were only for those who could afford them, and businesses (including some of the more well-known brands) were still relying on technology that we now consider to be out of date. The idea of wearable tech then was as realistic as robot colleagues and yet today both of them are not only a reality but very much increasing in numbers.
As the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has strongly advised that we don’t leave our homes unless it is necessary, it begs the question as to what use many industries have for an office, now that so many can work remotely. Does this mean that robots are now going to take our jobs? Or will we all be surplus to requirement once COVID-19 has eased off enough to allow for our collective returns to the workplace?
Well, no, we’re still nowhere near there yet. But evermore popular wearable tech has incorporated the functions of robotics, creating a wearable robot suit that allows users more abilities that they ordinarily would have. At the moment, the focus is on enhancing the human element with a robot exoskeleton (so there should be no fear of cybernetic takeovers just yet!) Industrial exoskeletons are at the front of wearable robot suits and are designed to help users lift heavier objects and move them in a more articulate way and they tend to be more involved in construction and factory work. That said, there are other industries that are using exoskeletons more and more, and not for industrial assistance.
Powered exoskeletons have actually been around for a lot longer than it seems, and were in fact developed for medical use as far back as the 1960s. Today’s medical exoskeleton range is a lot more sophisticated than the gait-enhancers that were developed for those with mobility difficulties by Serbian scientist Prof. Miomir Vukobratović and his team, nearly half a century ago.
Presently Ekso Bionics are working to create medical exoskeletons that bridge the gap between medical use prosthesis and operational execution times. It used to be the case (and still is with many mainstream industrial exoskeletons) that the time between inputting the intended movement and subsequent automotive motion or enhanced action would be lacking. However, thanks to the constant developments of robotic companies like Ekso, that lag is becoming a thing of the past.
With a large portion of the U.S. living with mobility issues, brought on through cerebral palsy, spinal cord injury, physical disabilities, lower limb disabilities, and complications from heart or brain injuries amongst others, high demand for medical exoskeletons has emerged. The more patients and usage of exoskeleton wearable technologies, then the marketplace will continue to expand for years to come.
Working with industrial exoskeletons on the other hand is not as straightforward as with medical use robotics. It’s thirsty work as it requires a lot of energy to operate. It might be worth getting in touch with bottled water suppliers to ensure that you drink water as you work with your exoskeletons.
The projected growth in the exoskeleton market is very well justified. As the technology becomes more mainstream, it becomes more available and therefore affordable for the general public. Although the U.S. defense agencies are helping to bolster the production of advanced wearable technology by increasing production for further use in the field, ultimately the combination of industrial use and medical requirements will be the spark to continues the exoskeleton expansion into the future.