Construction work is very labour intensive and can be damaging to the human body. Many tasks performed are strenuous and repetitive and can be exhausting; all this affects the workers wellbeing and longevity. However, technology is set to take away the strain that these workers need to face every day.
After years of experimenting and innovation, we now have the world’s first exoskeleton suits for use in construction, and they are nothing like the suits they show in games or movies.
Why has it taken so long for us to make this kind of technology? The simple answer is energy. A human being uses about 10 watts of energy just to stand, and over a kilowatt to work. Unlike in the movies, there is no magical technology that can produce enough energy for a “power suit” which can last for an entire working day.
However, technology today has made this possible with some industrial suits that do not even need power. Instead, they rely on counterweights, a light carbon fibre harness, metal-tube frame and a standard spring arm, the same kind used on image-stabilizing Steadicams.
Actually, the construction industry is rather late in joining the exoskeleton bandwagon. Body suits and add-on limbs have been used in the military and in helping patients with spinal injuries to walk again; they have even been used in some airports by baggage handlers.
To better explain the benefits of using an exoskeleton, let us take the example of two “exo-suits” made by a firm called Ekso Bionics. Headquartered in Richmond, California, it already has a proven track record for developing this kind of technology in the form of a bionic arm and an upper body suit for disabled soldiers.
The Ekso ZeroG
This device consists of a gravity-balancing arm and is designed to make tools feel weightless. It can hold industrial drills up to 16kg and takes off the strain that builders must traditionally endure when they work with heavy and cumbersome tools.
This is a spring-loaded exoskeleton for the upper body. It also makes heavy machinery feel weightless by taking the strain from the shoulders. It lets workers spend long days lifting heavy materials while holding them for extended periods.
Ekso Bionics is not the only company that is trying to refine this technology. Suit X, a Berkley based start-up, designed a workplace exoskeleton that redirects loads and provides assistance when lifting. It is made for construction and timber workers. Other companies are also developing exo-suits for people with mobility issues and the elderly.
The point of exo-skeletons is to augment human abilities where needed.
The market for exo-suits is becoming a big business. It is expected to be worth $2.1billion by 2021. Exo-suits are the future of construction and it has a bright future ahead.