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If you're familiar with the Iron Man character in the Marvel Franchise, you should have a good idea of what we're going to talk about.
Originally, an exoskeleton is an external skeleton that supports and protects an animal's body, for example, a snail's hard shell.
In the tech sector, we imagine exoskeletons to be external skeletons that are made to enhance the abilities of the person wearing them.
We'll discuss what a robotic exoskeleton brings and who uses it more thoroughly in the rest of the article.
Today's first iterations follow the shape of a human skeleton and are worn like a secondary spine.
The idea being that the skeleton can follow your movements and replicate them in a motorized way.
This means exoskeletons function with batteries and use electric motors to move.
Using motors in the skeleton means you have more power than your own arms if the motors are powerful enough.
Robots deliver an extra advantage in how they perform repetitive tasks over prolonged periods without fatigue.
Operating heavy portable tools and equipment may take a very long period if robotic body support is required.
Using this technology, the operator can operate heavier machines with greater force enhanced via a powerful robotic exoskeleton, giving the machines almost bare bones for human users.
They are more significant and more compact and will last longer as they appear lightweight, and can substitute for smaller machines that are used by the operator which are not augmented.
Controlling an exoskeleton requires not restricting movement to the only things a human operator is capable of doing.
The robots' controller could be used for moving exoskeletons at higher speeds than humans would.
Super speed is especially applicable for repetitive movements like hitting or cutting which can be programmed and repeated with ease and at much higher speeds than a human would.
More complicated movements such as walking or jumping require extensive knowledge and experience.
Closing the feedback loop, which we all know, while walking or running may be dangerous for the seasoned operator.
Super power may be the most evident power possessed by robotic exoskeletons.
The strength of steel legs can easily be carried by humans, It can easily carry more weight.
It's very easy.
The lifting capacity for lifting large amounts of material has many applications.
The most useful application of super strength might be in rescuing people stuck beneath collapsed buildings.
Robots can move heavy rubble with greater precision than standard backhoe / earth movers.
You may wonder how these actuators and sensors communicate with a person's will.
These machines work in one of two ways.
In some cases, electrodes read the electrical pulse in a patient's nerves, amplify it and understand it to execute the intention that the user had.
In other cases, the skeleton simply amplifies the ongoing movement, this removes the need to read human electrical impulses which is quite complex.
The latter is however harder to use.
A robotic exoskeleton also requires processing to keep the user stable.
According to application requirements, the processing power to generate autonomous movements could be considerable.
Sensor data provides real-time guidance on balancing proximity environment and integrity.
The command control is responsible for processing this data in order to determine the safest autonomous operation.
One of the interesting aspects of a robotic exoskeleton is in rehabilitation care.
Particularly for patients with long-term disabilities that have limited mobility.
An exoskeleton can help them reduce fatigue and walk independently.
The Hong Kong University of Medecine has started experimenting with exoskeletons already and has found great success when applying them to spinal cord injuries.
According to the researchers, the main benefits are
Medicine can greatly benefit from the use of an exoskeleton, bringing movement to those who can’t.
A second interesting use of exoskeletons is to enhance soldier performance.
Bringing them super strength.
Such tech can help in remote areas where special machinery couldn't go.
Armies also bet on technology to develop its assistance capabilities.
In later stages, such robotic exoskeletons would be used as armor.
You might have guessed it, but a fully robotic suit is expensive.
As most of this tech is custom-made, the cheapest suits already cost more than $5,000
Depending on the materials used, the durability, and the development that went into the exoskeleton, the prices can increase to more than $50,000.
This technology resembles prostheses which can also reach in the thousands and tens of thousands of dollars.
We've mainly discussed active exoskeletons that use motors to move, this means such robotic exoskeletons require energy.
They are also more powerful and can help disabled people by executing their intention to move.
Another branch in the exoskeleton area is about passive exoskeletons.
Such devices aren't motorized, they simply redistribute the load on other parts of the skeleton.
With this in mind, the objective here is not to achieve superhuman strength but simply to make the efforts easier on the body by better distributing the weight that's being carried.
This means better endurance as less energy is spent on a specific muscle, and more strength as you can leverage the power of more body parts instead of just one.
Passive exoskeletons are unpowered and work mostly mechanically by redistributing body weight between parts.
It is often done using the shoulder and arm muscles and spreading it over the torso.
This technology is very promising for home movers and people that carry heavy loads regularly as it could spare them some effort and prevent injuries.