I suspect that I’m not the only person whose first exposure to the idea of an exo-skeleton was watching Ripley go to battle in the Aliens movie power loader scene. Fast forward to 2013 and the hit Elysium was basically Matt Damon running around in an exo-skeleton for 90 action-packed minutes. But are we any closer to actually being able to use this technology?
The short answer is a resounding yes. Exo-skeleton technology is advancing rapidly and also drooping in price. Today exo-skeletons are available to give assistance to welders on the shop floor, military personnel, and rescue crews. Improved strength and reduced fatigue and chance of injuries are inevitably combined with the added bonus of becoming just a little bit super-human. Here are a couple of examples.
The company suit X, part of US Bionics, has launched a range of industrial exoskeletons aimed at reducing work-related injury risks. Based on UC Berkeley engineering research, MAX (Modular Agile Exoskeleton) combines back, shoulder and leg components to form what the company claims is the only passive industrial exoskeleton currently available.
The MAX system (pictured above) is designed to provide a flexible exoskeleton solution that can be adapted for a variety of different workplace tasks. The result is a versatile system that can allow workers to complete shoulder, lower back, and leg intensive tasks with reduced injury risk while remaining comfortable enough to wear all day. MAX is composed of three exoskeleton modules: backX, shoulderX, and legX. Each module can be worn independently and in any combination depending on need. All modules intelligently engage when you need them, and don’t impede you otherwise.
Ascending and descending stairs and ladders, driving, and biking are completely unimpeded. suitX says that field evaluations have been conducted at construction, material handling, shipbuilding, foundry, and airport baggage handling sites in the US and Japan.
The suits are constructed from (stainless) steel, composites and aluminium to make them lightweight yet robust, and are claimed to be an affordable tool.
MAX suits build on the success of early prototypes developed in 20000 by a team at the Berkley University of California. The Berkeley Lower Extremity Exoskeleton (BLEEX) exoskeleton system was designed to provide soldiers, disaster relief workers, wildfire fighters, and other emergency personnel the ability to carry major loads such as food, rescue equipment, first-aid supplies, communications gear and weaponry with minimal effort over any type of terrain for extended periods of time.
Photos ©suit X & University of Berkeley