Panasonic, maker of televisions, washing machines, cameras, and bicycles, is planning on making its factory workers superhuman strong by outfitting them with mechanized exoskeletons modeled and named after Ripley’s from Aliens.
Activelink, a Panasonic subsidiary known for its research in the field of assistive robotics, began development on the Power Loader with largely industrial uses in mind. A person wearing the suit would be able to lift up to 33 more pounds than they would normally be able to while exerting minimal effort, making it ideal for work on construction sites or as an assistive tool for emergency rescues.
“The concept we’ve used to develop Power Loader is, you get into it, rather than wearing it,” Activelink President Hiromichi Fujimoto explained in a video demonstrating an early prototype of the exoskeleton. “Power Loader receives the force input of a person through its force sensors, and amplifies it using motors.”
Each Power Loader is outfitted with a collection of sensors that interpret the ways that the suit’s wearer is moving. As the wearer moves, the suit moves along with it, adding supplemental support while also giving the person physical feedback.
Early versions of the Power Loader were strong, but lumbering and not ideal for widespread use, but more updated versions of the suit are much more agile while retaining their strength. Last year Activelink demonstrated a new version of the Power Loader that allowed its wearer to run at about 7.5 miles per hour while fully decked out in the tech.
Currently, Activelink’s technology is being tested at a number of Panasonic warehouses in Japan along with a trial deployment with the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture on a number of forestry projects. Going forward, Panasonic plans on further iterating on the Power Loader in larger, more powerful configurations capable of lifting much heavier items. According to Fujimoto, Activelink’s ultimate goal is to develop a suit that can perfectly mirror a human’s full range of natural motion.
“We’d like to achieve an exoskeleton with that kind of all-axis assist,” he said. “When we do that, we think we’ll have a robot that can carry at least [220 lbs] easily.”