A robotic vest designed to allow construction workers to lift heavy objects with reduced exposure to injury or muscle strain is set to launch in the UK next spring
The EksoVest, developed by California-based firm Ekso Bionics, is a form of exoskeleton, worn like a backpack, that can provide 2.3-6.8kg of vertical lift per arm when lifting tools or materials.
The device, which weighs 4.3kg, is being put to the test by construction companies in the US and Canada, ready for production in September, with a UK rollout planned for March 2018.
The ability to enhance upper body strength could open up construction careers to many more people, says Tom Mastaler, Ekso Bionics’ senior vice-president of business development.
Mastaler said: “Our device removes the brute force nature of the job, making smaller workers capable of doing what only larger workers were able to in the past.
“For many companies it will overcome the problem of workers’ bodies being gradually broken down over a 20-25-year period, resulting in early retirement or the need to move into other jobs to avoid injuries or surgery.”
The EksoVest is fastened to the hips and incorporates two mechanical shoulders that follow the movement of the upper body as the worker carries out tasks. As the elbows rise to chest level or above, a gas spring engages to provide up to 6.8kg of vertical lift per arm to provide additional support for tools or parts.
A main aim is to reduce the risk of injury to workers that have to work overhead for long periods of time, who experience strain in the lower neck, upper back, shoulders and arms.
Mastaler added: “University studies on the vest suggest a 20% to 45% reduction in muscle fatigue associated with the work task, depending on the size and shape of the worker.
“It enables the worker to focus on accomplishing the task at hand rather than having to take frequent breaks to recover strength. The quality of work is also higher because they are not becoming fatigued and can ensure the work is done correctly.”
EksoVest has a list price of $6,000 (£4,640) and will be sold with a range of “soft goods” to make it comfortable for different-sized workers for different applications.