June 13, 2017
Exoskeletons in the workplace and beyond
by Paul Carroll
The rest of you may not yet be thinking about what you want for Christmas, but I already know what I hope to see under the tree: one of these exoskeletons that Lowe’s is giving to a few employees in a test. The exoskeletons are only appropriate in a work setting, where people have to lift reasonably heavy objects repeatedly, but I’ve been anticipating exoskeletons for years now, and am delighted to see that they’re finally starting to find their way into the real world.
The implications for work (and workers comp) will be profound. It’s hard to get injured lifting something if the device you’re wearing is doing the lifting, while you just guide it. Jobs that have often been limited mostly to men, or even burly men, will now be open to anyone who can guide the exoskeleton. And exoskeletons are just getting started. They’ll begin by taking on tasks that people already do but then expand to let us accomplish much more. Just look at this video of exoskeletons helping people walk.
While many worry that robots will replace us, I think that augmentation is more likely. Just as computers are greatly improving our scope of knowledge (with Google search, Wikipedia and a smartphone, what more do you need?), exoskeletons will enhance what we can do physically.
What I really want is the sort of advanced exoskeletons shown in this article. But they may have to wait until next Christmas, or even the one after that. I suppose my Iron Man suit will have to wait even a bit longer.