Japanese electronics manufacturer, Panasonic, has announced that it plans to release one of the world’s first mechanical exoskeletons.
Produced in collaboration with a subsidiary called ActiveLink, the new exoskeleton will be released in September.
The Assist Suit AWN-03 exoskeleton will enable its wearer to carry much heavier loads than would be possible to carry on their own.
When the mass produced AWN-03 reaches the market, it will reportedly be offered at a cost of ¥1 million (£100,000, $160,000).
Partnering with distribution firm Tatsumi Shokai, ActiveLink is also allowing companies to rent their exoskeletons should they not need one permanently.
Designed for people between 160 to 180cm in height, and between 50 to 80kg in weight, the device is attached via straps to the wearer’s shoulders, waist and legs. These straps contain specialised sensors which detect movement, and allow the suit to move with the wearer’s natural movement.
Weighing in at around 6kg when worn correctly, the device allows a wearer to effortlessly lift loads of up to 15kg.
Exoskeleton development is especially important in Japan due to its rapidly aging workforce. These devices would enable a greater number of people to carry out physically demanding tasks such as those prevalent in construction or heavy industry.
“Human beings, as they age, the one barrier is their strength and their muscles deteriorate. To counteract that, we wanted to build a support system […] so that they can continue working even when they get older, no matter what occupation they are in,” explained ActiveLink in a promotional video.
Exoskeleton development accelerates
The AWN-03 exoskeleton is just one of a new wave of exoskeleton designs reaching fruition, based on recent advances in robotics, computing and medicine.
In South Korea, similar exoskeletons are already in use in Daewoo shipyards, enabling workers to carry superhuman loads.
Elsewhere, medical exoskeletons such as the ReWalk, developed in the US, are allowing previously paralysed patients to walk again.
Despite this, the limiting factor with all of these devices is their batteries, which are both heavy and expensive.