Folks in manufacturing jobs are subject to labour that can literally be back-breaking. But this exoskeleton prototype -- one of the first designed specifically for industrial work -- could make objects with exhausting heaviness feel up to 10 times lighter.
Engineering and research institute Fraunhofer IAO held the first live demo of its Robo-Mate exoskeleton prototype last week. The exo enhances the capabilities of three parts of the human body: arms, trunk (that's your back and spinal cord), and legs.
Researchers say the arm modules make a 30-pound car seat feel like 3 pounds; the trunk modules protect the spine from slipped discs and twists when lifting heavy items; the leg modules prevent workers from exerting extra energy when squatting, forming a "seat" with stiff stabilizers worn along the inner thighs.
Robo-Mate's been in the works since late 2013 and has involved engineers from 12 research facilities from seven European nations. The researchers used software that simulates worker behaviour, and they were able to pinpoint the moments of particular exertion on the body. This helped them build the most suitable exoskeleton possible.
Still, Wernher van der Venn, a professor at Zurich University of Applied Sciences who worked on Robo-Mate, admits it might, well, freak people out. "The prototype is functional, but its appearance is still off-putting," van der Venn says. "You can see all the technology and the wires. It's probably a bit scary for people."
Work on the exoskeleton will continue until 2016 -- with the ultimate goal of creating a manufacturable prototype. As long as we can get used to the idea of looking like Iron Man, exoskeletons could give us Iron Man-like strength in the not-too-near future.
Images via Robo-Mate