Physical Therapy and Improving Quality of Life for the Disabled:
Over the last decade exoskeletons have been on the rise in the physical therapy industry with trained professionals using them at rehab centers to help patients suffering from strokes or spinal injuries. However, this is just the tip of the ice-burg. As the technology continues to advance and more practical models become available we’re seeing exoskeletons moving into the home. Systems like SuitX’s PhoeniX, roughly $40k, are helping paraplegics walk again. Even those paralyzed from the waist down are now able to move around the house, neighborhood or even go hiking on their own two feet.
Manuel Labor Intensive Jobs:
Companies like Lowe’s, where their employees do a lot of walking and heavy lifting, are giving trial runs to exoskeletons that help bear the burden to reduce fatigue related injuries and accidents. Perhaps the most advanced unit being used so far is the one Ford is trying out in their factories. These contraptions cover the arms, shoulders and spine. Ford’s workers throughout the day typically raise their hands over their heads 4,000 times or more and the new exos are designed to reduce fatigue so that they stay fresher throughout the work week.
As the tech continues to become more practical exoskeletons will move into the construction industry helping workers sling sledges and carry heavy loads without incurring the back/joint injuries that are so prevalent in the field. Workers will be getting hurt less and not feeling as much fatigue at the end of their days helping them to live happier lives outside of the daily grind.
Recreational and Adventure Junkies:
Being an athlete my entire life has left this old body with a lot of wear and tear on it which is why I’m ecstatic to see how far exoskeletons have come. Currently exos are too expensive for the recreational market, but with time older/used models will flush the market and prices for newer ones will come down. This will lead to people like me, who want to hike until their eighty, to buying exoskeletons that help us get around. Instead of my knees flaring up after the tenth mile, begging me to turn around and head home, I’ll be able to keep on hiking. Inevitably the suits will get advanced enough to help joggers run faster and travel tens or even hundreds of miles a day. Forget extreme off-roading in a vehicle. People will be doing it in exoskeletons! I love thinking of a world where adrenaline junkies can jump off a twenty foot cliff, land on their feet without feeling a thing and keep on trucking. Superman can leap tall buildings in a single bound and maybe one day everyone else will be able to, too, if they can afford it.
Military and Modern Warfare:
If you’ve ever played Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare you might have some idea of what I’m talking about. Right now governments including America and China are trying to develop practical exoskeletons to augment their troops. At the moment battery life, which is often well under ten hours, seems to be the biggest impediment. However, this hasn’t stopped companies like Ekso Bionics and Revision from working on exo-suits with military applications. The main focus is on wearable robotics for the lower half that will help soldiers traverse rugged terrain for many miles while carrying loads upwards of a 100 pounds. Every grunt knows being in the infantry means lugging around on average 60 pounds of gear. This puts strain on the spine, knees, ankles and arches and many infantry men end up with lifelong injuries due to the heavy burdens. It won’t be long, perhaps within ten years, before modern armies are outfitting their troops with exoskeletons in mass.
But, going further it isn’t hard to imagine a world where full blown mechanized suits of armor are used in combat. Maybe not in my lifetime, but certainly down the road the countries that can afford to will be outfitting elite units with fully armored suits capable of stopping bullets, traveling at speeds well into the double digits per hour with enough strength not only to carry heavy loads, but to bust through walls and up end enemy Humvees. These suits could even have invisibility cloaking (yes, this technology is already in development and making great strides!). This will lead to troops carrying bigger guns, heavier artillery and, naturally, wealthier countries dominating poorer ones like never before.
Police and Gangs:
And if we delve for a moment into the extreme and slightly depressing world of sci-fi we can see these same exoskeletons being applied on the domestic front. It is inevitable that as the military develops better, more devastating exoskeletons the technology will spill over into law enforcement. No more will a common criminal be able to out gun or out run a cop. This technology will save the lives of those protecting us while also instilling more fear in the people they protect. But, just as the most successful and dangerous gangs end up with heavy weapons and specialty body armor it is likely they’ll, in small numbers, start to obtain exoskeletons. Imagine if Tony Stark was a drug dealer. Okay, so it won’t be that ridiculous, but the idea of top tier gangsters using exoskeletons to protect their turf is a scary and realistic possibility.
No matter how you look at it exoskeletons are shaping up to be an essential and revolutionary development in the history of man. The Terminators can suck it!
Guest article written by: Randy Fabi