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  (Source: Marvel Studios)
New motorized suit doubles as a workout machine

I'll admit: I'm a little bit obsessed with augmented exosuits, also known as exoskeletons.  For those unfamiliar with exactly what that is, just think of Tony Stark's Iron Man suit and you'll get the picture.  

I. NASA Joins "Iron Man" Race

Exoskeletons are rapidly advancing into the realm of reality, offering both military and medical applications.  But the best work likely lies ahead in this exciting emerging field.

The latest player on the exoskeleton scene is the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Repurposing the kinematic advances of the Robonaut 2 project -- a humanoid like robot NASA was planning on sending on unmanned space missions -- NASA has developed an exoskeleton dubbed "X1" that doubles both as a load-bearing exosuit and a novel workout machine.

Co-designed by the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition (IHMC) of Pensacola, FL (a multi-university non-profit research center) and Oceaneering Space Systems of Houston (a subsidiary of Oceaneering International, Inc. (OII), a maritime contractor), the 57-pound suit is strapped onto the legs, with supporting traps worn over the shoulders, backpack-style.

NASA X1 Exoskeleton
A female "space cadet" straps on NASA's exoskeleton. [Image Source: NASA]

The X1 is specially designed to deliver a rich array of movements for the wearer.  It features 10 degrees of freedom and four motorized joints (the hips and knees), plus six passive joints (used for sidestepping, turning and pointing, and flexing a foot).

II. Multipurpose Suit Both Load Bears and Provides Resistance Training

In workout mode, the device reverses the standard exoskeleton equation, with the motors instead resisting movement to provide resistance training.  This could be valuable to helping astronauts exercise and maintain muscle mass while in space, a place where large traditional exercise machines are problematic.

In standard assist mode, the X1 could be used on a Moon or Mars mission to assist the human space traveller in hoisting heavy boxes.  Though NASA did not explicitly mention it, the system's electric storage could likely be recharged by solar power at the landing site.

NASA has a pretty neat video of the suit in action here (complete with fun electronic groove soundtrack):


NASA Space Technology Program chief Michael Gazarik comments, "What's extraordinary about space technology and our work with projects like Robonaut are the unexpected possibilities space tech spinoffs may have right here on Earth. It's exciting to see a NASA-developed technology that might one day help people with serious ambulatory needs begin to walk again, or even walk for the first time. That's the sort of return on investment NASA is proud to give back to America and the world."

III. Helping Paraplegics Walk

Back on Earth; NASA also has ambitious plans for the device -- namely, using it to assist paraplegics (those who suffer from paralysis below the waist).   NASA and the IHMC have developed advanced assisted walking algorithms capable of navigating over "varied terrain".  This could allow handicapped individuals to walk freely for the first time, even climbing up stairs like able-bodied folks.

IHMC director Ken Ford comments, "We greatly value our collaboration with NASA.  The X1's high-performance capabilities will enable IHMC to continue performing cutting-edge research in mobility assistance while expanding into the field of rehabilitation."

handicapped spot
NASA and the IHMC want to use the suit to help Paraplegics walk. [Image Source: eHow]

The Game Changing Development Program funds the NASA exoskeleton work.  The bad news is that this and other programs could be at risk if mandatory budget cuts kick in amid the partisan deadlock on the budget.

Hopefully, this novel program continues to receive the funding it deserves, stepping (with a bit of help) one step closer to helping the paralyzed walk and helping astronauts achieve superhuman load-bearing operations.

Source: NASA



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I need one, but not this
By dgingerich on 10/15/2012 3:00:04 PM , Rating: 2
I need one to help me handle lifting servers. Getting them out of the box without screwing up my back is quite difficult. Sure, I can put them on the lift after I get it out of the box, but getting a Dell R910, for example, out of the box is rough. Most of the time, I don't have help, either. Having something like this to strap to my arms, hands, legs, and back would make it much easier.




RE: I need one, but not this
By Flunk on 10/15/2012 3:21:35 PM , Rating: 5
Have you considered cutting the boxes open? Might help.


RE: I need one, but not this
By Motoman on 10/15/2012 3:45:54 PM , Rating: 4
Or just set them on fire. The cardboard will burn down around the server, which will be fine afterwards.

Maybe.


RE: I need one, but not this
By JasonMick (blog) on 10/15/2012 3:53:47 PM , Rating: 3
quote:
The cardboard will burn down around the server, which will be fine afterwards.

Maybe.
If not, RMA?

"Burn marks? What are you talking about?? Oh, that darn UPS, what did they do now? The server was in perfect shape when I mailed it back, it just wouldn't boot! Just send me a new server, kthks."


RE: I need one, but not this
By Motoman on 10/15/2012 5:32:07 PM , Rating: 2
"What do you mean all the plastic is melted? I mean, Sally left it in her car for a while, but I didn't think it got *that* hot..."


RE: I need one, but not this
By dgingerich on 10/15/2012 4:54:55 PM , Rating: 2
:)


RE: I need one, but not this
By dgingerich on 10/15/2012 4:54:41 PM , Rating: 2
That's part of the problem. The flaps that stick out keep me from being able to keep the server close to my center of mass as I lift, causing strain on my back. ("Lift with your legs" doesn't work very well when I can't get my feet close enough.) Fortunately, I have a pretty strong back.

Cutting the flaps off helps a little, but not that much, and makes it a pain to reuse the box.


RE: I need one, but not this
By Homerboy on 10/16/2012 1:03:10 PM , Rating: 5
wut?!!?

You cut the sides of the box down to the floor. Then you have a server sitting on the floor. This isn't rocket science. Please tell me somebody else in your organization with better logistical skills is admin'ing these machines...


RE: I need one, but not this
By tecknurd on 10/15/2012 5:35:50 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
I need one to help me handle lifting servers. Getting them out of the box without screwing up my back is quite difficult....

When you lift, squat and lift with your legs. Always keep the weight close to your body. If you feel the burn in the leg muscles, then you did the lifting correctly. If you lift and your back hurts, then you did the lifting incorrectly.

Lifting a product out of a box is the wrong method. You want to lift the box first before accessing the product. Then tip the product to release itself from foam and plastic wrap.

I lift a lot of items at work heavier than that case. My leg muscles burn when I lift, so I am lifting correctly.

Make sure back is always straight while lifting.

BTW, the NASA exo-skeleton is for helping people to walk. Lifting is a whole different machine. DARPA has machines for that.


RE: I need one, but not this
By jnemesh on 10/15/2012 5:55:10 PM , Rating: 2
Open the box top, flip the box over, then pull the box off of the server. MUCH easier!


RE: I need one, but not this
By dgingerich on 10/15/2012 6:36:52 PM , Rating: 2
Sorry, I'm not going to flip over a server that costs more than half my annual salary. Many people in my lab would likely shoot me.


RE: I need one, but not this
By Alexvrb on 10/15/2012 11:27:01 PM , Rating: 2
Engine hoist!


RE: I need one, but not this
By Jaybus on 10/16/2012 8:05:11 AM , Rating: 3
Only if they are there to see you do it.....oh wait, if they are there then they could help lift.


RE: I need one, but not this
By Camikazi on 10/15/2012 7:25:11 PM , Rating: 2
You are funny thinking someone should flip over and potentially damage an EXTREMELY expensive piece of equipment. Very hilarious thinking he will risk damaging it and either losing his job or having to pay for the equipment.


RE: I need one, but not this
By Justin Time on 10/16/2012 1:19:14 AM , Rating: 3
If you saw the way they get handled during shipping, you wouldn't give it a second thought. The packaging is designed for this type of handling.

I worked for a corporate reseller, and the standard approach was to turn the box upside down, open it and fold the flaps back, then roll the box back over and then slide the entire box up, leaving the server sitting on the floor


RE: I need one, but not this
By gcor on 10/16/2012 3:29:42 AM , Rating: 3
I worked for a manufacturer that prescribed the same technique for servers. The company didn't want us to wreck our backs for two reasons; the sick leave and dropping the equipment when our back gave out.


RE: I need one, but not this
By euclidean on 10/18/2012 4:14:46 PM , Rating: 2
Same here :)

To be honest though, I usually just set the box on a cabinet or table, cut the box off, and done...if you really need to save the box for some reason (returning an old, end of lease one?), just cut on the seams...Tape will hold it back together just fine...


RE: I need one, but not this
By Reclaimer77 on 10/15/2012 7:01:51 PM , Rating: 2
lol I don't think they're going to spring for a gillion dollar mechanical suit so you can get servers out of boxes easier :P If they do, I wanna come work where you are!


RE: I need one, but not this
By fic2 on 10/15/2012 8:52:05 PM , Rating: 2
They should get one of those back support things for lifting. And, hey, how about a set of those lifting straps as seen on tv!


RE: I need one, but not this
By Ammohunt on 10/15/12, Rating: 0
I would like to see...
By FastEddieLB on 10/15/2012 2:21:10 PM , Rating: 3
half of the United States Congress' collective salaries given to NASA for one year to fund this.

Or a subsidy from our Defense budget. Since, y'know, the potential military applications of this.




RE: I would like to see...
By corduroygt on 10/15/2012 3:19:33 PM , Rating: 2
Need a legit power source for something like this, Iron Man does it with its fictional "Arc Reactor".

The progress of science is literally being held back due to the lack of a renewable energy storage with high density. That is the real reason we don't have mach 5 airliners today.


RE: I would like to see...
By dgingerich on 10/15/2012 4:56:37 PM , Rating: 2
Bah, just strap a car battery to her back. :)


RE: I would like to see...
By StevoLincolnite on 10/15/2012 5:56:04 PM , Rating: 2
Pfft. Portable Nuclear Reactor anyone? :P


RE: I would like to see...
By Spookster on 10/15/2012 7:19:36 PM , Rating: 2
ZPM?


RE: I would like to see...
By Rukkian on 10/16/2012 9:31:33 AM , Rating: 2
Zero Point Module?


RE: I would like to see...
By Motoman on 10/16/2012 12:12:00 PM , Rating: 1
I think you meant Zed PM.


Here's my Sunday Best!
By Apone on 10/15/2012 3:25:17 PM , Rating: 2
Proton Cannon! (couldn't resist the Marvel vs. Capcom 1 & 2 reference) I think it's great this technology is on the horizon which can definitely help the disabled, injured, and workers who need to lift really heavy objects as part of their job. However I'm surprised the Sulaco Power Lifter from the movie Aliens wasn't developed years ago as it seems more of a feasible concept that industrial commercial brands like Caterpillar, Komatsu, and AB Volvo could have engineered and built.




RE: Here's my Sunday Best!
By jRaskell on 10/15/2012 4:13:59 PM , Rating: 3
quote:
it seems more of a feasible concept that industrial commercial brands like Caterpillar, Komatsu, and AB Volvo could have engineered and built.


Feasible from the perspective of 'We have the technology to build one' perhaps. But one would, in all likelihood, cost 10 times what a regular forklift costs, and not really provide any use that a regular forklift doesn't already provide.


RE: Here's my Sunday Best!
By Reclaimer77 on 10/15/2012 5:26:07 PM , Rating: 2
Except all forklifts can do are grab pallets. That Wayland prop they built for Aliens could do so much more than a forklift. Theoretically :)


RE: Here's my Sunday Best!
By bill.rookard on 10/15/2012 5:52:59 PM , Rating: 2
Until of course you view the videos of the idiots who can't drive worth a damn... or who have had one or ten too many on lunch break.

Besides, something like that which actually walks is (well, at least theoretically) much more maneuverable than something 10 feet long with a turning radius of a block and a half. And also, if a queen alien DOES show up we can thrash it around without getting killed. Bonus!


RE: Here's my Sunday Best!
By Reclaimer77 on 10/15/2012 5:55:55 PM , Rating: 2
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tqd4aPs5WTA

Forklifts are all fun and games....

until you're decapitated.


RE: Here's my Sunday Best!
By Apone on 10/15/2012 6:50:34 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
...and not really provide any use that a regular forklift doesn't already provide.


While I get that forklifts are the go-to moving platforms for moving pallets, exosuits like the ones in Aliens could technically lift other heavy objects like construction materials (large pipes, I-beams, etc.), weapons (like in the movie), debris (in emergency situations), and other equipment. Yeah initially it probably would have cost a lot but if commercially successful, the production cost would eventually go down to due to Economies of Scale.


wow
By NellyFromMA on 10/15/2012 3:11:28 PM , Rating: 2
Look at the back side on her! Oh wait, thats just augmented... :(




RE: wow
By dedsetmad on 10/15/2012 4:03:12 PM , Rating: 1
Is this comment sexist or just "schoolboyish"


RE: wow
By jRaskell on 10/15/2012 4:11:11 PM , Rating: 2
Can't it be both?


NASA exoskeleton
By dedsetmad on 10/15/2012 4:00:04 PM , Rating: 2
Politicians require them for getting out of awkward positions.




RE: NASA exoskeleton
By Spookster on 10/15/2012 7:23:02 PM , Rating: 2
or for shoving those massive objects up taxpayers backsides.


Gravity
By FITCamaro on 10/15/2012 5:46:19 PM , Rating: 2
Attach magnets to the bottom and have them turn off(or dial back) when the user is trying to take a step. Then have the electric motors provide resistance so the astronaut gets a workout from it. Waalaa. Somewhat simulated gravity in space.




Portable crapper.
By jahinoz on 10/15/2012 9:36:33 PM , Rating: 2
I've looked at that pic a few times and every time it looks like she's wearing a portable crapper. Even her face looks like she's in the process when the photo was taken. Whether that comes standard or comes as an optional extra, who knows.




$10 says
By FITCamaro on 10/15/2012 10:13:31 PM , Rating: 2
At NASA they refer to it as 'the strapon'.




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