Wearable Robotics: The Rise of Human Body Augmentatio

Real-life wearable robotics, or bionics, have become the center of interest for many research and development firms across the globe. Exploring this new niche, an Italian firm called Perceptual Robotics Laboratory (Percro) has been able to build a machine known as “body extender”, which can lift up to 50 kg in each extending hand.

This suit, referred to as “exoskeleton”, is made of an external framework worn on the body that creates or augments energy used for limbs movement. Percro believes the technology has potential in the military, manufacturing as well as therapeutic sectors. It could be used to rescue earthquake victims by lifting heavy debris while looking for survivors, or to perform heavy-duty industrial work. Medical applications are also being looked into by firms such as Ekso, a Canadian company that already developed a Bionic Suit for medical purposes.

Similarly, Indego, an American firm specialized in medical engineering, has been working on the Indego Exoskeleton. Already, the Atlanta-based Shepherd Rehabilitation Center has made the technology available to one of its patients. The exosuit allows the user, who suffers from paralysis, to stand upright and walk again. Movements of the exoskeleton are controlled by the position of the upper body. For example, leaning forward makes the mechanism move forward, and leaning backward makes it sit down.

A different version of the software helps patients with incomplete spinal cord injury. Ryan Farris, one of the exoskeleton developers at Indego, says that subjects “have to intend to walk, and [...] have to make the effort and then we support them only as needed. The device is intelligent enough that as they get stronger, it weans them off of the support [...] so eventually they’re walking on their own.”

There are other exoskeletons on the market, and some testing over rough terrains and varying speeds is still being done. Humanbody augmentation clearly demonstrates potential in increasing physical abilities and experience. Thanks to these groundbreaking technological advances affiliated to the world of wearables, people will have the opportunity to benefit from a safer environment, new capabilities and easier heavy-duty work.