Kubota developing exoskeletons for manual workers and fruit pickers
Osaka-based Kubota Corporation has built a robust brand for its agricultural machinery over the last three decades, and hence it was no surprise to see the company showing an unpowered exoskeleton at the International Robotics Exhibition.
Though not yet at market, the ARM-1 is a finished product that is expected to sell in the range of JPY 110,000 to 120,000 (US$1,100 to $1,200) as a productivity aid for fruit picking and any activity where a worker's arms are held above their shoulders for extended periods.
For my sins, I spent a university vacation picking fruit many moons ago, and still recall the pain in my back and arms from having my arms above my shoulders for 10 to 12 hours a day. After trying the ARM-1 in a faux grape-picking situation, I immediately understood the benefits. Think of the ARM-1 as an adjustable set of arm rests, that are stabilized by the exoskeleton structure and anchored on the hips and shoulders.
What I wouldn't have given for one of these back then. Instead of resting my arms back by my side and then raising them again, repeatedly, thousands of times a day, it would have been much easier and far less stressful, to drop them a few inches onto the arm rests.
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This seems to be strictly a static positioning device based on the limited information in the article, but I may be wrong. I would prefer that it was an active positioning device by spring-loading the armrests at the shoulder pivots to reduce the effort of reaching up, basically making your arms weightless or even slightly buoyant, but not with so much spring force that it takes serious effort to pull the arms down to your sides and not restricting your range of movement.