You read it correctly; exoskeletons aren’t just fantasy anymore—they’re officially now a tool in the workforce. But unlike the mechanical aids you see in movies or television, these suits don’t enhance the wearer’s strength twofold but rather increase their endurance to help a person reach overhead.
The suit in question is called the EksoVest. Created by the California-based Ekso Bionics under their EksoWorks technology line (which is meant for construction, manufacturing, and industrial applications), the EksoVest helps reduce the fatigue Ford employees experience when doing overhead tasks to check the ins and outs of cars in production.
If you have ever changed a lightbulb before, you’ll know how straining it is to keep your arms up for long periods at a time. Now imagine doing the same thing 4,600 times a day for the whole work week. The vest provides 5-15lbs (2.2-6.8kg) of lift assistance on the wearer’s arms, shoulders, and back to help workers with their overhead work while reducing the risk of injury.
The EksoVest weighs 9.5 lbs (4.3 kg), has an adjustable work envelope of 20 inches (50cm), and can be worn by anyone ranging from 5’0”-6’4” (152-193cm). It isn’t the lightest thing to wear, but considering it saves you from back pain and osteoporosis, I’d say the workout is worth it.
Ford’s initial plan was to use the EksoVests in two Michigan plants, but after seeing how employees liked the extra support, they expanded them to 15 plants worldwide. 75 EksoVests will be distributed to employees all over the world. The small number may not seem like much considering Ford’s employee count, but this is just the company testing the waters before increasing the number of exosuited personnel.
If having exosuited employees is the path Ford and other manufacturers will take for the future, then sign me up!