In comic strips and action movies, robot exoskeletons give inventors superpowers. In factories and other work environments, robot exoskeletons support workers, to improve occupational safety.
The need for improved occupational safety is large. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported more than 3 million nonfatal injuries and illnesses in private industry during 2013. The impact on productivity is large, with a median eight days off from work due to injury or illness. The number of fatal work injuries was much smaller, at about 4,500, but the personal impact is, of course, immense.
Sit Down On the Job
For assembly line and other industrial workers, repetitive stress is a common medical issue. The Chairless Chair supports workers in a half-sitting position, customized to their specific body shape. Wearers don't have to drag a chair with them as they move about; the Chairless Chair moves with them.
Lend A Hand
The Ekso Works, like the Chairless Chair, transfers the user's weight to the ground. It goes a step further in having a sprung arm that can handle a heavy tool, making it practically weightless to the person wearing the exoskeleton. Another exoskeleton, the Fortis, lets wearers lift heavy objects effortlessly in a standing or kneeling position. Wearers will be able to work more easily in areas where bench-mounted tools can't be used.
Put a Spring in Your Step
A device that fits around the wearer's calf, the Walking Assist Clutch, literally puts a spring in the wearer's step. The device is triggered at a specific moment during a stride and increases the efficiency of walking by seven percent. This would benefit workers who are on their feet all day long, like nurses or a police officer walking a beat.
Benefits Beyond the Workplace
Businesses are looking at these devices to provide more ergonomic work environments, and increase employee productivity as well as minimizing health expenses due to employee injuries. For employees, benefits include the reduced risk of injury, and no lost wages from unpaid time off. Outside the workplace, exoskeletons will enable paralyzed individuals and frail elderly to maintain independence. In those cases, the exoskeleton is indeed delivering a superpower.