RBR50 company Lockheed Martin has been developing exoskeletons since 2009. And it just received its first order from the government to test its product.
The U.S. Navy, through the National Center for Manufacturing Sciences (NCMS), has signed a contract to test two Fortis exoskeletons from the Bethesda, Maryland-based defense giant. Financial terms of the deal weren’t disclosed.
Lockheed says the Fortis exoskeleton is lightweight, moves naturally with the body, and allows users to lift objects up to 36 pounds effortlessly via the Equipois-manufactured zeroG arm, reducing muscle fatigue by 300 percent and increasing productivity by two to 27 times.
The Navy will test the ability of the Fortis exoskeleton to help ship maintenance crews perform tasks that require heavy lifting. One exoskeleton will be tested at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Virginia, while the other suit will be evaluated at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Washington state.
“Ship maintenance often requires use of heavy tools, such as grinders, riveters or sandblasters,? says Adam Miller, director of new initiatives at Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control. ?Those tools take a toll on operators due to the tools? weight and the tight areas where they are sometimes used. By wearing the Fortis exoskeleton, operators can hold the weight of those heavy tools for extended periods of time with reduced fatigue.?
Fortis is an unpowered exoskeleton that transfers the weight of heavy objects from the user?s body directly to the ground, increasing the users strength and endurance. The exoskeleton straps onto the user like a backpack, with an arm tool that attaches to a belted waist and metal beams on the outer legs with supports at the shins and feet.
Lockheed says the objective of this partnership is to “mature and transition exoskeleton technology to the Department of Defense industrial base and perform testing and evaluation for industrial hand-tool applications at Navy shipyards.”
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?We are pleased that once again a technology advanced through our highly successful Commercial Technologies for Maintenance Activities (CTMA) program will be put into commercialization,? says Rick Jarman, president and chief executive officer of NCMS. ?The Lockheed Martin Fortis exoskeleton contract is just another example of how collaboration around research and development speeds the time to market for these important innovations.?
Exoskeleton Market Growth
While the contract is to evaluate the Fortis exoskeleton for the Navy’s use, Lockheed says it also is developing exoskeletons for the military. And that’s a smart move. According to a recent study from WinterGreen Research, the rehabilitation robot market, which includes rehab/therapy robots, active prostheses, exoskeletons and wearable robotics, will grow from $43.3 million to $1.8 billion by 2020.
There are a large number of companies involved in exoskeleton design and manufacturing, but three notable companies in the exoskeleton market have gone public in the past year: Ekso Bionics, Cyberdyne, and Argo Medical Technologies, maker of the motorized ReWalk Robotics.
Ekso raised $20.6 million during its public offering in January 2014; Cyberdyne, which is believed to be closed to FDA approval, listed its stock on the Tokyo Stock Exchange; and Argo went public in July with a $58 million initial public offering.
The contract with the U.S. navy also marks the first procurement of a Lockheed exoskeleton for industrial purposes, an area also turning more to exoskeletons. Recently at a Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering shipyard in Okpo-dong, South Korea, workers tested exoskeletons to help lift large hunks of metal, pipes and other heavy objects. The company, one of the largest shipbuilders in the world, wants to take production to the next level by outfitting workers with exoskeletons.
With a 3-hour battery life, the exoskeleton allows users to walk at a normal pace and lift objects with a mass of up to 30 kilograms.
Testers were pleased the exoskeletons let them lift heavy objects repeatedly without strain, but everyone also wanted it to move faster and be able to cope with heavier loads, according to reports.
The world’s top three shipbuilding firms are South Korean ? Daewoo, Hyundai Heavy Industries and Samsung Heavy Industries ? and their shipyards are already renowned for their level of automation. In a study of the firms’ facilities in 2012, U.S. Navy personnel found five out of the six yards they visited used robots in some capacity.
“At the time, most of the yards we toured were significantly more advanced in robotic welding than the US yards performing naval ship construction, and had been for a long time,” Gene Mitchell, the retired U.S. Navy officer who led the research, recently told New Scientist.
Healthcare Robotics 2014 Research Report
Healthcare in the U.S. is approaching $4 trillion annually. To support, enhance, and mitigate the healthcare burdens, our healthcare system is witnessing robotic medical technology entering hospital surgical suites, in-patient rooms, in-home patient care, and uses with emergency services and vehicles.
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