Ford, the automaker, is trialing a new exoskeleton at two of its factories. The device is designed to help line assembly workers perform overhead tasks. The exoskeleton, called EksoVest, was developed in a partnership with Ekso Bionics, a company we visited and whose technology we tried on ourselves a couple years ago. While Ekso has devoted a great deal of effort to building full-body exoskeletons for paralyzed people, the technology found in those devices can be applicable to able bodied people performing physically difficult repeat tasks, such as operating the overhead machinery.
The EksoVest helps to lift a worker’s arms when doing something above the head, such as when bolting in parts into a suspended car frame. The user’ arm motion is not limited and aside from putting on the device there’s not too much change in a job’s workflow. Every time the arms, typically holding a hydraulic tool, are lifted up, the EksoVest helps right along. It can be set to provide between five and fifteen pounds of augmentation of lift every time it’s used, which for many workers can be in the thousands of times a day.
Like the Ekso Works exoskeleton we tried at Ekso Bionics offices, the EksoVest is not powered by electricity or other means. Instead, it is an energy transfer device that’s similar to hiking backpacks that alleviate pressure on the shoulders by suspending them on a hiker’s hips. The EksoVest makes the user’s legs support the tools that are being lifted above the head, reducing pressure on the arms, shoulders, and back, and hopefully leading to fewer injuries.