Robotics

Robo-Mate exoskeleton aims to lighten the load for industry

Robo-Mate exoskeleton aims to ...
Robo-Mate is the first industrial exoskeleton
Robo-Mate is the first industrial exoskeleton
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Robo-Mate is the first industrial exoskeleton
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Robo-Mate is the first industrial exoskeleton
Robo-Mate was demonstrated earlier this month in Germany
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Robo-Mate was demonstrated earlier this month in Germany
Robo-Mate is designed as an everyday working tool
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Robo-Mate is designed as an everyday working tool
Robo-Mate makes lifting easier by a factor of ten
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Robo-Mate makes lifting easier by a factor of ten
Robo-Mate is currently being streamlined for practical use
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Robo-Mate is currently being streamlined for practical use
Robo-Mate was developed using simulations of assembly and disassembly tasks
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Robo-Mate was developed using simulations of assembly and disassembly tasks
Robo-Mate makes lifting easier by a factor of ten
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Robo-Mate makes lifting easier by a factor of ten
Robo-Mate is being developed by a consortium of European companies and organizations
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Robo-Mate is being developed by a consortium of European companies and organizations

The development of powered exoskeletons has so far been largely restricted to the laboratory, the military, and areas such as rehabilitation therapy. This kind of technology also has obvious potential in industry, where constant heavy lifting is still very much a part of many working lives. Recently in Stuttgart, the Robo-Mate project unveiled an exoskeleton designed specifically for industrial use that can make 10 kilos feel like 1.

One of the often overlooked benefits of modern technology is how much backbreaking labor workers are spared. It isn't too long ago that even so-called high tech industries required an astonishing amount of lifting and carrying. Even plastics factory making small household items required as much manual labor as a metal works turning out petrol engines. Mechanisation and automation have done away with a lot of this, but according to the Work Foundation Alliance, 44 million workers in the EU alone still suffer from musculoskeletal disorders. In some industries, workers still lift 10 tonnes a day.

The reason why this still happens on a daily basis is that not every task lends itself to automation. Some involve making things on a very small scale or others involve complicated, unpredictable moves, like dismantling a car, that are well beyond even the most advanced robots. The result is human beings literally having to do the heavy lifting, with all the physical wear and tear that implies. It also has knock-on effects for employers trying to retain workers, health care systems, and even the ability of countries to keep jobs from going abroad.

Robo-Mate makes lifting easier by a factor of ten
Robo-Mate makes lifting easier by a factor of ten

Robo-Mate project began in 2013 as a consortium of twelve research institutes and companies in seven European countries. The idea is to produce a powered exoskeleton that acts as a support frame that can reduce the physical workload for assembly and disassembly work by a factor of ten.

The Robo-Mate exoskeleton is made up of series of inter-supporting modules for the arms, trunk, and legs. The arm modules actively support the wearer's arms, taking the load, so it feels only a tenth of its real weight. Attached to the arm modules is the trunk module, which supports the back and spine and prevents twisting or slipped discs. Meanwhile, the leg modules support the inner thighs and act like a seat while squatting, so holding the load requires no additional strength.

Robo-Mate makes lifting easier by a factor of ten
Robo-Mate makes lifting easier by a factor of ten

According to the project team, the key to developing the exoskeleton was using software to simulate tasks involving assembly and disassembly, and then identifying the stresses placed upon the body. This allowed the team to sort out what tasks the exoskeleton is suitable for by considering it and the body as a single unit.

The first prototype of the Robo-Mate exoskeleton was unveiled in a demonstration at Fraunhofer IAO in Stuttgart on 12 June, but the team says that a great deal of work still needs to be done. Currently the safety requirements of the exoskeleton are being evaluated and streamlined case for the unit is being developed as part of an effort to make it more acceptable with workers as an everyday tool.

“We’re not looking to make superheroes," says Dr. Leonard O`Sullivan, a specialist in ergonomics and product design at the University of Limerick in Ireland. "We want to develop a helper that supports production workers in their everyday work and keeps them healthy."

Source: Robo-Mate

6 comments
SuperFool
the version shown will need some kind of wrist brace to prevent carpal tunnel formation.
Randolph Garrison
I would consider adding support to the floor to support any heavy loads in place of relying on the operator's hips and legs.
Bob Flint
Hold on a minute, where is the rest of the skeletal support? With only this one upper shown, then the shoulders, back, legs, & feet carry all the weight of the support structure. A complete system will give greater you net strength over input, but not his top only.
esar
Ripley's loader one in Alien was much better
Dave Lawrence
My first thought was how this might be made available for people with motor and sensory disorders such as MS, chronic osteo arthritis etc Then, I realised that this isn't the world I grew up in, and the only marketplace for a thing like this is increasing worker productivity so that the companies who buy these things get more work from, and more income from, (for no doubt the same pay) the employee
Rann Xeroxx
We really are getting close to an ecto-skeleton future. Military use I would think would be the first application as it would allow large body armor and weapons.