There are some jobs on Ford's automotive assembly lines that require workers to be constantly reaching overhead, and a whole day of doing so can really take a toll on their back, neck and shoulders. That's why the motor company has recently partnered with California-based Ekso Bionics to trial an upper-body exoskeleton known as the EksoVest, which elevates and supports the arms.
The unpowered vest can be fitted to workers ranging from 5 feet to 6 feet 4 inches tall (152 to 193 cm), using springs to provide adjustable lift assistance of 5 to 15 lb (2.2 to 6.8 kg) per arm. Wearers are still able to move freely as the device is relatively lightweight, tipping the scales at 9.5 lb (4.3 kg).
It's currently being piloted at two US plants, and there are plans to test the technology in other regions such as Europe and South America.
"Collaboratively working with Ford enabled us to test and refine early prototypes of the EksoVest based on insights directly from their production line workers," says Russ Angold, co-founder and chief technology officer of Ekso Bionics. "The end result is a wearable tool that reduces the strain on a worker's body, reducing the likelihood of injury, and helping them feel better at the end of the day – increasing both productivity and morale."
The EksoVest can be seen in action, in the video below.
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