The big picture: While many robotics firms are researching ways to create human substitutes, some are focusing on how to augment human capabilities. Sarcos has some industrial grade exoskeletons that it is preparing to launch before the end of 2019. There will be two models — one that is light and agile and a larger one for heavy lifting.
According to IEEE Spectrum, Sarcos Robotics is just about ready to roll out a couple new exoskeletons designed for industrial use. The Guardian XO and Guardian XO Max were built to assist factory, construction, and mine workers to boost their strength and protect them from injuries. The exosuits have been in development for nearly two decades and should be ready for implementation toward the end of 2019.
The Guardian XO weighs about 50 pounds and can lift around 77 pounds (35kg). While that is not a great effort for a human, the exoskeleton will allow its operator to lift that weight repetitively without tiring. The Guardian XO Max is a heavier unit but is capable of repeatedly lifting loads of around 200 pounds (90kg).
The suits use what Sarcos calls a "get-out-of-the-way" control system. Sensors within the suit detect the user's movements and mimic the speed, force, and direction in the appropriate limb. This control scheme makes the exoskeletons very intuitive and require minimal training to use.
"The suit moves along with you; you don’t have to think about how to use it," said Sarcos CEO Brian Wolff.
Both models are battery powered. The company claims that each unit can last for about eight hours per charge. Power cells can be hot-swapped as well, so there is no need for continuously operating companies to worry about downtime.
Until now the wearable robots have been confined to Sarcos' R&D labs due to limitations in power management. However, recent breakthroughs have made the technology commercially viable.
“It’s one thing to make a very expensive robot in the lab,” said Wolff. “We’re finally at the point where the exoskeleton’s capabilities coupled with the economics make it a viable product.”
Sarcos is planning on implementing a “robot-as-a-service” business model. Companies that sign on will be provided with the exosuits and docking stations installed by Sarcos staff. The firm will also provide ongoing maintenance, repairs, and upgrades in the cost.
“[The XO package] is roughly the equivalent to a fully loaded, all costs included, $25 per hour employee,” says Wolff regarding the subscription price.
This may seem like a somewhat high fee, especially since it is more like a rental, and the company never gains equity in the equipment. However, Wolff claims that each exosuit can improve an employee’s productivity four- to eight-fold and will reduce the chance and number of on-the-job injuries.