“Exoskeletons” are those mechanical devices or soft materials worn by patients/operators, whose construction mirrors the structure of operator’s limbs, joints, and muscles, works in tandem with them. Exoskeletons are used as a capabilities amplifier, assistive device, haptic controller, or for rehabilitation. Exoskeletons stand in contrast to non-articulated mechanisms such as braces and slings that do not work complimentarily with human operators.
Many early models were designed for military applications, with defense departments, primarily in the US, funding research and development initiatives. Commercialization efforts followed, led by exoskeletons designed for medical rehabilitation (often for wounded veterans), or as mobility aids allowing paraplegics to stand upright, walk and climb stairs (quality-of-life exos).
Exoskeletons designed for performing manual labor tasks in industrial environments are now commercially available. More importantly, exo research is ongoing and more industrial products are coming. It is easy to see why. Many industrial processes are too complex to automate with existing technology. At the same time, some of this same work is too physically demanding or risky to be accomplished by humans.
Exoskeleton technology can act as a bridging solution between the extremes of fully manual, non-technology enabled tasks, to those operations that demand traditional industrial robots. Exoskeletons exploit the intelligence of human operators and the strength, precision and endurance of industrial robots.
The business benefits of commercial/industrial exoskeletons are obvious and easily quantified. They include increased productivity, with a concomitant reduction in the number of worker related injuries, as well as decreased need for expensive, “full on” robotic solutions.