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This robot exoskeleton could protect workers from injuries

Guardian has been running trials for its robot exoskeleton with Delta Air Lines and the U.S. military.

This robot exoskeleton could protect workers from injuries
[Illustration: Señor Salme]
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Even as unemployment climbed during the pandemic, industries that relied heavily on manual labor, such as construction and e-commerce logistics, faced worker shortages; manufacturing alone is expecting a deficit of 2.4 million workers by 2028. Enter the Guardian XO: a complex humanoid robot that’s not setting out to replace humans but instead to amplify their strength as they perform physically demanding (and often repetitive) tasks.

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While some exoskeletons are designed for rehabilitation, the Guardian XO aims to become the first workplace exoskeleton, preventing injuries before they ever occur. Occupational back injuries cost businesses $100 billion a year and are reported to be a cause of opioid dependency. Plus, some factory and warehouse gigs might be more appealing to workers if they know the job won’t cause wear and tear on their bodies. Ben Wolff, CEO of Sarcos Robotics, maker of the Guardian XO, predicts his machines will democratize work by allowing people of all physical statures to be “as capable as the person built like a college football linebacker.”

Before bringing the XOs to market, Sarcos is conducting a trial with Delta Air Lines to assist workers who lift cargo and repair aircraft. Meanwhile, a second exoskeleton is in the works: The “torso” of this robot, which will be called the Guardian XT, is placed in a bucket truck or a scissor lift and controlled remotely as it does jobs such as welding and sanding at significant heights, preventing injuries from falling. As jarringly cyborgian as the suits may appear, for Wolff, they’re just updated extensions of performance-enhancing tools we commonly wear, such as glasses. “Finding technologies that augment humans,” he says, “will be a significant part of our future.”

Heavy Lifting

The XO allows a user to lift up to 200 pounds but makes it feel like 5 or 10. (Zero is possible, but weightlessness can cause wooziness.)

Smart Suit

Software inside the suit analyzes data collected from 125 biometric sensors, assessing stress points and directing robot joints.

 

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Robot Rental

Customers won’t pay an up-front sum for the suit—they’ll put the robot on the payroll. The “robot as a service” model will cost employers about $25 an hour.

Iron Man?

The XO is running tests with the U.S. military, focusing on logistics—not tactics. “We resemble Iron Man only in that we are an exoskeleton,” Wolff says.