Iron Man-like Vest Helps Automotive Workers
“The advancement of technology generally evokes a range of emotions in people from all walks of life. Some view technology as a great evil that slowly diminishes our humanity, while others view it as a way to bring the world closer together and to help solve some of our greatest challenges.” – Robert J. Szczerba
As much as technology has advanced the automotive world, we still depend greatly on manual labour to put vehicles together. Any manual labour over time can have an impact on one’s health: from backaches to knee problems, which will ultimately lead to stress and, from a company’s point of view as well, costs money to remedy. A few automakers, namely BMW and Audi, have started exploring the use of some type of exoskeleton to aid their workers in their daily tasks.
At the BMW plant in Spartanburg, South Carolina, workers are being assisted by exoskeleton vests, a motorized framework worn to reduce effort in certain tasks, by 30 to 40%. That’s an amazing reduction indeed.
Image credit : BMW
“There’s so much potential for helping our associates with all the different stresses and strains they have in all parts of their body,” said Frank Pochiro, a BMW innovation manufacturing engineer in Spartanburg. “People don’t really understand that here in assembly, it’s still a labour-intensive process of putting the vehicles together.”
Pochiro was inspired to test out the technology after watching a TED Talk, which showed the technology being used to ease the burden of soldiers carrying heavy loads, which can go up to 100 pounds and unsurprisingly cause chronic backpains. The technology was also developed to improve the lives of people who are in wheelchairs. According to Eythor Bender of Berkeley Bionics who gave the 2011 talk, there are an estimated 68 million people worldwide in wheelchairs—almost 1% of the world’s population!
Audi tested another device in 2015, called the ‘Chairless Chair’, and it helped its user with one thing and one thing only: sitting. It helps the Audi employee to sit (relax leg muscles) without actually sitting in a chair. It is also designed to improve posture and reduce leg strain.
Image credit : Audi
Automotive technology has come a long way, with hybrid vehicles, autonomous driving and ride-hailing improving our everyday lives. We leave you with a thought by the great science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke, who famously said, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is equivalent to magic”.