Bionics Turn Humans Into Super-Strong Workers And Soldiers

Called EksoVest, the wearable technology elevates and supports a worker’s arms while performing overhead tasks. Image: FORD.
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The race is on to develop various types of exoskeletons to turn ordinary human workers into supermen or superwomen. This technology was originally spawned by the military in their quest for super-soldiers on the battlefield.  TN Editor

Iron Man suits might not yet be commonplace, but companies from Ford (F) to Lowe’s (LOW) are testing new mechanical exoskeletons to enhance — and extend — human strength.

Earlier this month, Ford said it was testing four models of exoskeletal arms to help ease fatigue for assembly line workers.

Hyundai last year announced it was working on a wearable robot suit. And Germany’s Audi (VLKAY) began testing robotic assist technology for production plants in 2015. Universities from the Massachusetts Institute of Technologyto U.C. Berkeley are also developing technology, mostly inspired by potential medical use.

“My job entails working over my head, so when I get home my back, neck and shoulders usually hurt,” said Paul Collins, an assembly line worker at Ford’s Michigan Assembly Plant, in a statement released by Ford. “Since I started using the vest, I’m not as sore, and I have more energy to play with my grandsons when I get home.”

The potential for expansion into other industries like construction or loading and unloading of goods is becoming more realistic as scientists rethink older designs, Scientific American reported earlier this year.

The global market for bionic devices may rise to $12.1 billion by 2026, up from $3.2 billion last year, when the US had almost 40 percent of the global market, according to report from BCC Research earlier this year.

Ekso Bionics (EKSO) announced last week that it’s providing technology to Ford, a device called the EksoVest, and its stock has climbed since then. That’s even though it reported selling fewer units than some analysts expected when it released third-quarter results earlier this month.

The fledgling company, which listed on the Nasdaq stock exchange last year, has $33.44 million in cash, enough to fund operations for more than a year, according to its quarterly filing with the US Securities and Exchange Commission.

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