The exoskeleton is a popular science fiction trope: “Aliens,” “District 9,” and “Edge of Tomorrow” all prominently feature the mechanical suits. And as with many sci-fi inventions before it—holograms, 3D printing, self-adjusting shoelaces—exoskeletons are making the jump from the silver screen to the real world.
SuitX industrial exoskeletons reduce the risk of injuries to the wearer without the use of batteries, actuators, or computers. Available in backX, legX, and shoulderX, the modular devices can be combined to form a full-body exoskeleton, called MAX.
BackX can be put on and taken off in 30 seconds and is designed to integrate with standard safety harnesses and tool belts. The module reduces the forces and torques on a wearer’s lower back region (L5/S1 disc) by an average of 60% while stooping, lifting objects, bending, or reaching. It comes in two models. Model S is compatible with legX, weighs 4.9 lbs, and is worn with an exoskeleton harness that weighs 2.5 lbs. Model AC is compatible with legX and shoulderX and weighs 7.5 pounds. It is worn with the same 2.5-lb harness. The Model S frame keeps the rear belt open and accessible for reaching tools, while the Model AC frame is load-bearing and transfers the weight of attached loads directly to the hips or the ground if legX is attached.
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LegX allows the wearer to squat repeatedly or for prolonged periods of time by reducing the knee joint and quadriceps muscle forces. The system can distinguish between walking, ascending/descending stairs, and squatting to provide support only when it is needed. A locking mode allows the module to be used like a chair. LegX is offered with a custom work boot to maximize comfort. LegX weighs 13.7 lbs, but is not borne by the user.
ShoulderX reduces gravity induced forces at the shoulder complex, enabling the wearer to perform chest-to-ceiling-level tasks for longer durations and with less effort. The module balances the combined weight of the wearer’s arm and the tool he is holding throughout the body’s range of motion and can be quickly tuned for different levels of support. The support force gradually increases as the user lifts his arms. ShoulderX weighs 9.4 lbs with one arm attached, 11.7 lbs with two arms attached.
When all three modules are combined, the system reduces the muscle force required to complete tasks by as much as 60%, says the maker.
BackX and shoulderX cost $4,000; legX is $6,000.