Lending a Motorized Hand

Robot arm

Robotic exoskeletons occupy a place in the human imagination generally reserved for drama and heroics, with Iron Man’s flashy flying suit of armor being perhaps the most familiar example in modern pop culture. Occasionally something more practical is envisioned, like the rig used in the movie “Aliens” for handling extremely heavy cargo and supplies. While it may be sometime before the former has a chance to enter reality, the researchers at Fraunhofer IAO are hard at working realizing the latter.

The Robo-Mate prototype exoskeleton has been demoed as a manufacturing-minded piece of equipment that would make a worker’s load “up to ten times lighter to lift or carry.” While more and more production tasks are handled by completely automated machinery, there are still many things a bit too complex, nuanced, or unpredictable for a robot to handle. The Robo-Mate assists workers by increasing their capabilities while simultaneously reducing the risk of injury. “Workers engaged in production and disassembly tasks often lift and carry several tonnes of material in a day. Damage to the spine and long-term health problems are an almost inevitable consequence,” the institute observed. “In addition to the worker’s personal suffering, this also creates high costs for the healthcare system.” The system consists of three distinct modules working in concert: arm, trunk, and leg. The arm modules lighten a load by a factor of ten, making a 15 kilogram car seat feel like a mere 1.5. Of course, strong arms are only as good as the back and legs that support them. The trunk module protects the back and spinal column by stabilizing a worker into a proper lifting posture, preventing slipped discs and other potential back-related injuries. The leg modules address the inner thigh, stiffening into something like a seat when the wearer enters a squatting position.

While the prototype is a successful proof-of-concept, the developers at Fraunhofer IAO plan on streamlining the design further before rolling it out. Professor Wernher van der Venn remarked, “The prototype is functional, but its appearance is still off-putting – you can see all the technology and the wires. It’s probably a bit scary for people.” Dr. Leonard O`Sullivan added that whatever they go with, it won’t be terribly flashy: “We’re not looking to make superheroes.”

What do you think of the Robo-Mate prototype exoskeleton?

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About DevonJ140
I am currently an Accounting Director living in New York City. I love reading and learning more about business, finance, tech, and current events.

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