New Exoskeleton Does the Heavy Lifting for Factory Workers

New Exoskeleton Does the Heavy Lifting for Factory Workers

Ford said that the new vest is only the latest example of advanced technology that it has been using to reduce "the physical toll on employees during the vehicle assembly process".

"Working with Ford enabled us to test and refine early prototypes of the EksoVest based on insights directly from their production line workers", said Russ Angold, co-founder and chief technology officer of Ekso Bionics.

Ford engineers estimate that line workers in some plants are performing tasks higher than head level as many as 4,600 times per day. Over time, the possibility of fatigue or a repetitive strain injury increase substantially.

"My job entails working over my head, so when I get home my back, neck and shoulders usually hurt", said Paul Collins, an assembly line worker at Ford's Michigan Assembly Plant.

EksoVest is a lightweight upper body exoskeletal technology that lifts and supports a worker's arms when they need to reach up.

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The four EksoVests were paid for by the United Auto Workers union, which represents hourly workers at Ford, and the automaker plans tests for the exoskeleton in other regions including Europe and South America.

The vests are not robots meant to replace factory workers, but make it possible for humans to become "part robot" themselves, it added. Other companies are developing robotic exosuits for people with mobility issues, senior citizens and the military.

"The health and safety of our membership has always been our highest priority", said UAW-Ford Vice President Jimmy Settles.

While this isn't the first exoskeleton designed to assist the human worker, the EksoVest demonstrates how such tools can prevent injury due to fatigue and provide physically disabled individuals the opportunity to regain lost abilities. Between the years of 2005 and 2016, the company saw a whopping 83 percent decrease in workplace incidents that result in transfers, days away from work, and work restrictions.

In a video footage, a reporter from local KPIX TV (Channel 5) described wearing an Exoskeleton Vest to putting on an empty backpack that straps to his back and arms.