Much has been said about the rising need for warehouse robots to meet the recent surge in demand for e-commerce products.
One company, SuitX has a different plan altogether. By using mechanical exoskeletons, the company, founded by the University of California, Berkeley's Human Engineering Lab, is improving the efficiency of warehouse workers as well as preventing injuries.
A recent Interact Analysis report states that 28,500 new warehouses will be built globally by 2025 to meet the rising demand for e-commerce products. Though robots — such as Boston Dynamics' new robot, 'Stretch' — will undeniably play a vital role in taking up part of the workload, the human workforce still has an important role to play.
SuitX's exoskeletons, sometimes referred to as "wearable robots", enable humans to carry out lifting jobs that would have otherwise required heavy-duty machinery.
The company is leveraging recent advances in exoskeleton technologies to provide a host of exoskeletons for a variety of uses.
Exoskeleton advances open new possibilities
SuitX currently offers the ShoulderX, BackX, and LegX. Not only do these, and other exoskeletons, allow users to lift heavy materials, they also have the potential to help paralyzed people walk.
SuitX's exoskeletons are now being tested by car manufacturers General Motors and Fiat. The machines are designed to reduce muscle fatigue. By reducing muscle activity in the back, shoulders, and knees by 50 percent, the risk of muscle injury is substantially reduced.
In an article about SuitX, Adrian Spragg, an expert on the technology at management consultancy Accenture, told the BBC that "integrating humans and machines into one system opens up a new realm of opportunity."
"Many of the early applications have been focused on military and medical applications, but in the last several years there's been an explosion of use in a range of cases."
The rate of innovation in the technology means that exoskeletons may eventually be offered globally on the consumer market to help users perform DIY tasks at home.
Exoskeletons provide a new dimension to the argument that workers will soon be replaced by robotics. Much like the vision held by Elon Musk's Neuralink, they suggest we can join them rather than being pitted against them.