Imagine a future construction site where a worker can swiftly pick up and move hundreds of pounds of materials thanks to hi-tech exoskeleton suits. Sarcos Robotics is speeding us towards that promising future, now taking pre-orders for the Guardian XO Max – the world's first battery-powered, full-body industrial exoskeleton – with delivery slated for early 2020.
One of the bigger engineering challenges Sarcos faced in creating a functional industrial exoskeleton was developing a way to efficiently power the system off a small battery unit. For the exoskeleton to be commercially viable and practical, it needed to operate for a substantial amount of time on battery power, untethered from any power cables.
After years of work Sarcos has now produced what appears to be a practical untethered system in the form of the Guardian XO Max. This unit that can operate for up to eight hours on a single battery charge and is also designed to have its batteries easily "hot swapped," meaning empty batteries can be replaced with new ones while the unit is still operational in the field.
"With our innovations in optimizing power utilization, Sarcos has been able to do what no other robotics company in the world has been able to do with powered exoskeletons or humanoid robots—power a human-scale robot doing meaningful work for up to eight hours on a single charge," explains Sarcos Robotics CEO, Ben Wolff.
The Guardian XO Max is claimed to offer wearers a 20 to 1 strength amplification, meaning around 100 pounds (45 kg) should feel as light as 5 pounds (2.2 kg). It is also claimed there is virtually no latency between human movement and exoskeleton response. So the suit should easily function intuitively, in real-time, to any worker's individual movement or reflex.
It's unclear exactly how much these exoskeleton units will cost, but initially they will not be sold individually, rather delivered using a fee-based Robotics-as-a-Service (RaaS) model. In an interview with IEEE Spectrum, Ben Wolff suggests the entire Guardian XO Max package, including installation, maintenance and oversight, "is roughly the equivalent to a fully loaded, all costs included, $25 per hour employee." It is implied that the exoskeleton will notably enhance a worker's productivity making this an enticingly cost-effective proposition for construction and manufacturing companies.
We are already seeing smaller iterations of this exoskeleton technology rolling out in factories around the world. Last year Ford moved to implement an upper-body support exoskeleton in all its factories after a successful trial. LG is also incredibly close to commercially releasing its SuitBot, another support exoskeleton helping factory workers lift heavier loads, for longer periods of time.
It is only a matter of time before this kind of wearable robotic technology completely revolutionizes construction industries, and the release of Sarcos' Guardian XO Max looks like the first wave of new exoskeletons promising to augment human strength and enhance efficiency.
Source: Sarcos Robotics
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