Films like iRobot, Blade Runner, RoboCop, or Terminator may merely seem like fantasies, but contemporary technology says otherwise. In fact, robotic exoskeleton technology – or the ability to construct robots that physically emulate human beings – is on the rise and growing quickly.
Technology companies, universities, and government agencies are developing their own versions of enhanced, outer-limb bionics that would fit comfortably around a person’s limbs. Engineers in Italy have already developed a robot that is arguably the most sophisticated machine in the world to date. This form of technology involves a variety of coverage, such as assisted living, mechanized warfare, space exploration, and trauma recovery. So, what does this mean for us regular human beings?
For starters, these innovative machines can be applied to countless situations. Italy’s wearable “Body Extender” is proven to lift up to 50lbs and can exert 10 times the force the user applies to an object. The machine is also said to be completely versatile and flexible, considering its ability to be lifted, rotated, and positioned suitably. Fabio Salsedo of Perceptual Robotics Laboratory, who leads the project, says the machines could even be applied to rescuing a victim on an earthquake in the event that the victim could be harmed if not maneuvered properly. Other practical robots include the “ReWalk Exoskeleton,” which is designed to enable those with lower limb disabilities to walk upright with the aid of crutches, and the “Hulc,” which is a hydraulic exoskeleton that enables soldiers to carry weights of approximately 90kg in the field. Similarly, these types of machines would be effective in factories where perhaps large or heavy materials need to be handled.
While there is much potential in the benefits of robotic exoskeletons, some complications in the technology do exist. According to Salsedo, these issues include developing the control systems, the materials, and essentially the power systems. One critical issue is the overall equilibrium of some machines, which could be a matter of safety.
In a BBC news article, he states, “The evolution of the exoskeleton will go hand in hand with the evolution of batteries or other high density storage systems as well as lightweight structural materials.” However, he adds that the simpler medical devices will remain commonplace before the more complex full-body exoskeletons.