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Exoskeleton technology poised to transform factories of the future

January 2017 News

Automation and artificial intelligence are paving the way for human robotic collaboration, finds Frost & Sullivan’s Visionary Innovation Team. Exoskeletons, both passive and active, will see higher adoption across industries such as automotive, manufacturing, defence and healthcare. In factory settings, they can empower workers, improve ergonomy and provide safety by increasing automation, thus improving quality, reducing waste, and lowering levels of absenteeism due to injuries. Understanding the costs, benefits and return on investment (ROI) of exoskeleton integration into assembly lines could also be the first step toward human robotic collaboration (HRC).

The Hybrid Assistive Limb (HAL) is a powered exoskeleton suit developed by Japan’s Tsukuba University and Cyberdyne to expand the physical capabilities of its users, particularly people with physical disabilities.
The Hybrid Assistive Limb (HAL) is a powered exoskeleton suit developed by Japan’s Tsukuba University and Cyberdyne to expand the physical capabilities of its users, particularly people with physical disabilities.

“Exoskeletons will play a critical role in the future of smart factories,” noted Frost & Sullivan Visionary Innovation Group research analyst Vijay Natarajan. “By 2020, firms across most industries will use some form of exoskeleton technology and by 2025, concepts such as HRC will likely replace exoskeletons, resulting in increased collaboration between humans and robots.”

The potential for seamless integration within a factory setting, lower maintenance costs, and an attractive ROI with a payback period of less than one year indicate tremendous promise for the exoskeleton technology, but challenges remain:

• Currently, there are no regulations that bind exoskeleton use on factory floors. A proper regulatory framework needs to be incorporated to ensure that safety requirements pertaining to technology use is met.

• A negative perception of machines replacing human beings, instead of assisting them, lingers. Further, the debate about who is in control, the machine or the user, is a concern among most users.

As significant cost benefits in terms of productivity and insurance for workers propel exoskeleton technology forward. Several players are offering innovative solutions including Noonee, Exso Bionics, Cyberdyne, Active Bionics, Robo Mate Consortium, Lockheed-Martin, Bioservo Technologies and Sarcos.

“The evolution of artificial intelligence and machine learning will eventually result in intelligent autonomous robots that sense surroundings and work effectively with human beings to initiate multi-fold levels of efficiency,” concluded Natarajan. “In that sense, exoskeletons have a very unique role in future human-robot or cobot factories.”

For more information contact Samantha James, Frost & Sullivan, +27 (0)21 680 3574, samantha.james@frost.com, www.frost.com




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