20th Century Fox
This is what we all have thought at one time or another when a story about a powered exoskeleton makes the tech news rounds. And maybe it's because of the Caterpillar P-5000 Powered Work Loader in the 1986 classic "Aliens" that we are so close to having these human forklifts on the job site. How close?
"They may not be cost ready, but the way these things evolve, that could be in the next two to three years," says Boeing's Chris Reid, calling it the "last unicorn" of the exo-tech world.
CAT's newest rugged material handler, the 225-hp MH3037, is tough, operating in mill yards and salvage yards, but don't expect Elon Musk to pack one when he colonizes Mars.
The Fictional Weyland Corp from Aliens patented the Power Loader in 2025. Real workers will have exosuits to grant them super strength much sooner. Panasonic subsidiary ActiveLink already has an R&D department littered with them in Nara, Japan. Called the Power Effector, the exoskeleton has a reach of 7 feet can lift more than 650 lb. Mass production is planned for next year.
Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering (DSME) also has a power-assist wearable that can ease 66 lb off a load. It weighs 61 lb and can be worn by anyone from 5'2 to 6 ft. It's composed of hydraulic joints and electric motors, with a backpack battery that provides about three to four hours of use. Prototypes are in use now at a South Korean shipyard, and the goal is to be able to lift 220 lb in the future.
The French companies Colas and RB3D teamed up to create an exoskeleton, Colexo 1.0, to prevent musculoskeletal disorders in their road pavement crews, who may smooth up to 38.5 tons of bitumen a day. These workers' rake tools may exert forces up to 154 lb, so that's a lot of back pain by the end of the day. This ergonomic tool is already alleviating that strain now, and should be in wider use next year.
Xenomorph, Warrior Princess
If we are to colonize Mars, or LV-426, or anywhere else, you can be sure a few of these on board. The MH3037 weighs more than 41 tons, while the weight of these exosuits would be more comparable to an Apollo space suit (310 lb). And they would be much more effective at battling Xenomorph queens.
Edge of Today
Like most technologies, if it's cool and cutting edge, the U.S. military is probably involved. The DoD budget was nearly $600 billion in 2015, and more than 10% of that was on R&D. Like they would for a warehouse worker, exosuits would increase a soldier's strength and stamina. As "Edge of Tomorrow" shows, they'd provide an arsenal upgrade as well.
When "Iron Man" came out in 2008, Tony Stark's suit looked so realistic, people started to consider if a suit like this could actually be engineered. Well, if you're a "genius billionaire playboy philanthropist," then maybe. And if you're the military industrial complex, then absolutely. In 2013, the United States Special Operations Command (SOCOM) announced its intention to mass produce the Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit (TALOS).
Revison Military's Kinetics Operation Suit is not only a power assist exoskeleton, but also integrates a helmet, armor, and electronic devices. It could make the wearer's body 60% bullet-proof. It uses electrical motors as opposed to hydraulic actuators, and is being considered for the TALOS initiative.
FORTIS / Lockheed Martin
The wearable FORTIS exoskeleton lets users operate heavy equipment like a giant drill as if it's a screwdriver. The passive device holds up to 50 lb. Lockheed says it reduces muscle fatigue by 300%.
So there's this company that named Cyberdyne, after "Terminator" company that accidentally caused the apocalypse by creating Skynet. And they have an exosuit called HAL, like the malicious AI in "Space: 2001." But HAL stands for Hybrid Assistive Limb, and is touted as the world's first cyborg-type robot. It senses weak electrical impulses from the brain to the muscles through the skin and understands what motion should be enacted.
No Gym Membership Required
Like other exosuits, HAL can helps workers lift heavy objects and could be used for disaster recovery.
Parker Hannifin, which is helping with MegaBots' hydraulics, has developed its own exosuit. The Indego powered lower limb exoskeleton is intended to help people to help people with spinal cord injuries walk again.
Visit http://www.indego.com for more info.
Ready for Personal Use
The Indego weighs 26 lb and doesn't have a bulky battery backpack, though it does provide four hours of use. It has been cleared by the FDA for clinical and personal use.
So far, all the exosuits we've discussed give the user a decent-sized power boost, but what's out there for giant-sized jobs? Tony Stark had his Hulkbuster suit to slow down the Hulk in "Avengers: Age of Ultron."
You could always build your own. Rhode Island man Thomas DePetrillo built his own 9.5-ft Hulkbuster for a reported $60,000.
Best in Show
For his efforts, he took home best in show at NYC Comic Con and earned $1,500 in prize money. Not bad for two guy in a work shop, but how many people -- and how much money --would it take to build a real one?
Not Just a Game
In the '90s, hopping in a giant bipedal, rocket-toting war machine used to be just a good way to avoid doing your homework. Sure, we're talking about video games, like the popular "MechWarrior" series, but to a pre-teen, it sure seemed real.
The Impossible Dream
Samantha King/ Penton Media
Guy Cavalcanti and Matt Oehrlein, both 30, had become successful engineers working for Boston Dynamics and Eaton Corp, respectively. But the thing they really wanted to build was a giant robot like the ones they dreamed of as kids. So they formed MegaBots, inc., and subsequently challenged Japan to a fight. Japan accepted and MegaBots has raised more than $4 million to upgrade their mech and start a robot fighting league.
Check out our in-depth coverage of MegaBots' journey here: http://bit.ly/2e30Z1y.
MegaBot Built for Two
Both Cavalcanti and Oehrlein will pilot the MegaBot Mk. III, the the 16-ft tall, 10-ton mech they are currently building. Cavalcanti will steer and Oehrlein will shoot the giant paint cannonballs.
Moves like Jaeger
It's kind of like the movie "Pacific Rim," which also had two pilots to control their giant Jaegers. But in this science fiction world, the pilots used a unique neural connection to drive the nearly 300-ft tall robots. MegaBots uses machine controls developed by Institute for Human & Machine Cognition to the move the 40 actuators it will make their hydraulic colossus more agile.
Another difference? Jaegers fight giant inter-dimensional monsters called Kaiju.
Domo Arigato, Mr. Giant Roboto
the Mk. III will battle Kuratas, a wheeled, single-seater mech created by Kogoru Kurata in 2012, who was inspired by '80s anime. The onboard control system responds to voice commands and facial movements, such as a smile. He wanted to sell them for about $1.3 million each, but there were no takers. Once the world sees it in action in the upcoming Giant Robot Duel, will companies realize its industrial potential, and how it could attract the younger generation to manufacturing? Bottom line: Forklifts ain't sexy; Kuratas is.
Weapon of Choice
Kuratas is a fine-looking machine. Too bad MegaBots wants to rip it to shreds. But how to do that? The much smaller BattleBots use buzz saws, which is like using a dental drill on Godzilla. So MegaBots has turned to the heavy equipment manufacturers for inspiration.
Trenchers such as the Ditch Witch HT300 Rock Trencher can rip 10-ft, 36-in holes in the terrain. Imagine that as a robot arm. It'd be the ultimate mashup of "Evil Dead" and "the Transformers."
Sweet Dreams Are Made of These
You don't have to imagine, actually. They're freakin' doing it!
MegaBots also revealed they are trying out a log grapple as another modular arm. Rotobec makes one with a chainsaw built into the hand. That's probably useful in the logging industry, but even more useful in a robot fight.
Harmony Gold USA
So this company is called Rotobec, and is allegedly a 40-year old company from Quebec. But it makes giant chainsaw claw hands and sounds way too much like Robotech. Just what are those Canadians up to, anyway?
Giant Robot Starter Kit
World Events Production
MegaBots isn't just building giant to robots to fight, not that there's anything wrong with that. The company is building a giant hydraulic robot from scratch, and is wiling to share that knowledge and sell giant robot starter kits. The price is $500,000, and would include the power unit, valves, actuators, and necessary control systems all guaranteed to work together. "It's more like a box of Legos than a figurine," Gui Cavalcanti says.
"I can weld together girders, throw on a bunch of actuators from the kit, and now I have an excavator, or take loads off of pallet racking," Matt Oehrlein says. "I can make these things from scratch quickly to solve my exact needs,"
With that in mind, who wants to go in with us on a Kickstarter to build a real life Voltron?
We'll settle for even building one of the lions.
Good Bot Hunting
So we don't have robot lions yet, and combining them to form a Voltron-type super robot is by our estimations, at least a decade away, but MIT does have a cheetah. At first glance, you may not think there's any practical industrial use for this robotic cat, but bear with us.
The Final Hurdle
The MIT Cheetah uses LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) and a three-step algorithm to judge the height and distance of an object and how best to hurdle over it. In the future, could this be used to enhance exosuit mobility? We hope so!