By Felix Mayerhofer
The idea of exoskeletons is not necessarily new as first models were built in the 1960. Those early exoskeletons were very clunky however and the suits weighed a lot more than the lift able loads. Over the last years this technology has become more and more mature and is nowadays used by the military services. In the near future it will be increasingly introduced in the civilian world.
Exoskeletons will be used by industrial workers to help them operate heavy tools and carry materials. A lot of industrial work is done by robots nowadays and the number of industrial robots will rise in the future. Exoskeletons will help human workers to compete for such jobs as experienced workers with exoskeletons will be more flexible than industrial robots. Exoskeletons will not be used much in assembly line work, but instead in big projects in which a single item is built. Additionally exoskeletons will be useful for work in smaller spaces were robots have trouble maneuvering. Likewise exoskeletons will be used by construction workers, who will be able to operate heavier tools and work for a longer time, this will lead to shorter construction times. Since operating tools will not be as tiring it will be easier to concentrate and this will reduce accidents caused because workers are exhausted. Finally exoskeletons workers can react to unexpected situation better than industrial robots.
This technology will also be widely used for physical therapy to help people who have had an accident or lost a lot of muscle mass due to an illness. Exoskeletons might be used to help rebuilding muscles in a single limb or in the whole body. Exoskeletons can adjust the amount of help they provide to the wearer so during therapy the support can gradually be reduced so the therapy retains the same effect even after the patient has made progress. In Addition patients who can no longer walk or move without help could use an exoskeleton to help them in their daily lives. This might become common practice once the technology is cheap enough.
The main military use for exoskeletons is to help soldiers to cover more distance and traverse difficult terrain more quickly. Once exoskeletons are also available to the general public for a reasonable price, people might use exoskeletons for the same purpose. They might help researchers on expeditions in inhospitable areas or might be simply used for fun like helping amateurs to climb higher mountains.
Student at Technikum Wien University