The Field of Exoskeleton Systems: An Overview of the Industry

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Unlimited Tomorrow
Unlimited Tomorrow

 

We are in a day and age with rapidly advancing technologies constantly changing the forefronts of fields such as medical, industrial, and defense. The research and development in the exoskeleton field has yielded astounding results that may alter the everyday functions of numerous areas. From helping individuals with muscle-operated 3D printed limbs to aiding soldiers in taking less physical impact from strenuous activity, this field has become the future of tomorrow. Exoskeleton research is bringing a new level of accessibility to the world around us and is quickly evolving to meet the needs of top fields we all rely upon for safety and security.

For those not knowledgeable with this field, let us first define and generalize the operations of exoskeletons. A basic definition is a user-worn device that aids in the augmentation, reinforcement, and even restoration of performance in humans. The key factor is that the exoskeleton works with human movement as opposed to replacing it. An example to explain this in better detail is the difference between a mechanical prosthetic versus the exoskeleton. A mechanical prosthetic replaces a limb, whereas exoskeleton systems are muscle-operated as well as feature sensing and learning traits. This means the system learns from the body’s behavior and begins to respond to it for advanced control over the limb.

One boy’s dream has become a reality after founding his company Unlimited Tomorrow. Easton LaChappelle found an interest in robotics at the age of 14 and followed his dreams, leading to the creation of affordable mind-controlled prosthetics. This prosthetic is essential for more than just giving the physical attributes back to the user, but also helps in aiding the mental adjustment of losing a limb. The prosthetic is based on both the missing and still present limb, as well as matching skin tones and featuring paintable nails. This all adds to the experience of the individual feeling complete again.

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Another exciting development with exoskeleton systems comes in the form of reducing combat loads for soldiers. Using exoskeletons will ease movement around battlefields, reduce carrying loads, and even prevent injuries. This is extremely important to keep our troops safer as they work tirelessly to defend our country. This technology is finally going to be implemented into its first testing phase with the soldiers of the 10th Mountain Division. The focus will be on the quality of life the devices provide to the soldiers. The aim is the comfortability and fit of the knees and hip devices to soldier’s bodies.

While these two fields do not apply to the everyday individual, there is the industrial side of development, which we may all see the impact in our daily lives. From construction workers to factory workers, the concept of using exoskeletons means increasing worker’s productivity and quality of work while reducing injury and fatigue. We will see workers’ overall health and satisfaction increase as companies are better equipped to compete with supply and demand needs, giving the economy the positive shift it needs.

When looking at industrial exoskeletons, there are six categories currently in development. The first is a tool holding device that is used to aid in the use of heavy machinery. The second type is used to assist in crouching or standing for long periods of time. This will decrease fatigue while enabling workers to maintain a steady work pace. The next category is similar to the last in function and is used to support the back. This will ensure workers maintain correct posture as well as aiding in lifts by reducing the load on the back and spine. Fourth are power gloves, which are used for two purposes in industrial settings. One function is to aid those with weak finger strength to properly grasp tools, while the other feature is the exact opposite and can be used by those with issues opening fingers. While not as prominent as some of the previous categories, fifth is full body power suits. An interesting side note to this is that prior beliefs saw full body suits being the future of the industrial era. The last exoskeletal category involves suits that provide a second pair of arms. These are used to aid in holding tools or materials in place for the user.

While all this is just covering the basics of the exoskeleton systems and its applications in numerous fields, it shows how promising the future can be. With design and research teams dedicated to enhancing the future, it is easy to see how viable an exoskeletal system could be implemented in everyday life. Entrepreneurs such as LaChappelle are continuing advanced development into cost reduction and enabling supply to more consumers in need of this technology. Looking forward, this will become a field of enhancing the economy, protecting our troops, increasing the economy, and increasing health.

 

Citations:

“What Is an Exoskeleton?” Exoskeleton Report, 29 Aug. 2015, exoskeletonreport.com/what-is-an-exoskeleton/.

Gonzalez, Carlos. “Hope Turns into Reality with Robotic Prosthetics, Exoskeletons.” Machine Design, 3 May 2018, www.machinedesign.com/motion-control/hope-turns-reality-robotic-prosthetics-exoskeletons.

South, Todd. “This Army Unit Will Be First to Test an Exoskeleton That Lightens Combat Load.” Army Times, Army Times, 5 June 2018, www.armytimes.com/news/your-army/2018/06/05/this-army-unit-will-be-first-to-test-an-exoskeleton-that-lightens-combat-load/.

“22 Exoskeletons For Work and Industry Into 6 Categories.” Exoskeleton Report, 7 Jan. 2019, exoskeletonreport.com/2016/04/exoskeletons-for-industry-and-work/.