When it comes to the prospects of mixing man with machine, our imagination often takes us to top secret military missions or saving the world from impending doom.
However, the real-world applications of such technology, like improving worker productivity and limiting exposure to long-term health risks, can be just as ground-breaking.
In 2011, suitX, a California-based robotics company, received funding from the National Science Foundation to develop an industrial robotic exoskeleton.
Yesterday, after five years in development, suitX founder and CEO Dr. Homayoon Kazerooni, a mechanical engineering professor by trade, unveiled Modular Agile Exoskeleton, or MAX.
MAX relies on the body’s posture to activate torque generators that simultaneously support the body and reduce the amount of effort needed to perform a given task.
These modules contain no motors or batteries but are able to differentiate between regular movements and those that place strain on the body. So MAX is able to stay flexible for movements like walking or even driving, but once a more dynamic or stressful motion is enacted, MAX becomes more rigid in providing support.
As soon as the body returns to a relaxed position, MAX resumes its original, flexible composition. The backX and shoulderX are positioned as being unintrusive enough that they can be worn under jackets and without issue for eight or more hours.
Dr. Kazerooni stressed that the development of these devices took much longer in order to ensure a limited amount of electronics were used. This helps keep the price down and avoid complex troubleshooting when in use.
The modules are adjustable, can be taken on and off in less than 30 seconds, weigh between 4-12 lbs., and are resistant to dust and water.
And unlike other, similar pieces of industrial bionic technology, MAX is not a prototype and is available for purchase at suitX.com. Individual modules run between $3,000 - $5,000, with the entire system available for around $10,000, with discounts based on quantity.