Wearable robots are pushing the boundaries of what humans can do, from powered exoskeletons that allow soldiers to lift hundreds of pounds to robotic limbs that allow paraplegics to walk. These are designed around the functions of the human body and can be as simple as headsets or as complex as a full suit armour. Wearable robots were initially intended for the military to help soldiers in physically demanding tasks but now they are being used for industrial and medical applications.
The Stuff Of Science Fiction
This is a 1959 American satirical military sci-fi novel by Robert A. Heinlein. It tells the story of a young soldier’s exploit in a futuristic mobile infantry equipped with powered armour.
The Marvel superhero character was introduced in 1963. It features a wearable robot that gives its operator superhuman strength.
Mobile Suit Gundam
It is a televised anime series from 1979 to 1980 that features humans who battle it out in mobile suits.
This is a 1986 American sci-fi action horror film where the lead character, Lt. Ripley, puts on a robotic heavy lifter to confront a giant alien creature.
The Stuff Of Science Fact
General Electric started the Human Augmentation Research and Development Investigation (HARDIMAN). This device would have allowed the wearer to lift 680kg and was intended to use for underwater and space construction. By the 70’s one arm was developed that could lift 340kg, however it weighed almost three-quarter of a ton. The project was dismissed and the exoskeleton was never turned on with a person inside.
In 1986, Former Army Ranger Monty Reed was paralysed after a night parachute jump went wrong. While reading Heinlein’s novel, Starship Troopers, Reed came up with the idea for a suit that would allow people who were paralysed to walk again. The life suit that Reed came up with, was the first personal initiative for a wearable suit.
In 2000, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) of the U.S Department of Defense, began a seven-year, $75 million program called Exoskeleton for Human Performance Augmentation. The agency provided funding to robotics firm Sarcos to deliver a powered exoskeleton for soldiers. DARPA accepted a Sarcos exoskeleton design in 2006 and the firm began building prototypes.
Two Kinds Of Tech:
Lightweight advanced robotics, which includes prosthetics and exoskeletons have now taken the stage. Soldiers can carry 90 kg backpacks for long periods without feeling the strain, factory workers are able to lift objects twice their weight with nary and sweat and paralysed people can now walk unaided.
The Passive Versions
Passive exoskeletons do not need a power source. As a result, they are simple, low cost and easier to use. The system is usually a rigid frame that runs from the back, down the legs and onto the base of the boot. This configuration transfers any load force to the ground and bypasses the user’s body.