Do you remember Ripley fighting the Alien queen? If not, here’s a quick reminder:

Real exoskeletons are now making their way into the construction industry to increase safety and productivity for all workers. These machines aim to reduce any strain gained from tasks ranging from screwing car bolts overhead in a car factory to drilling into walls while holding up heavy equipment.

Exoskeletons range from supporting a worker’s back, legs, and hands to supporting the user’s entire body.

A BigRentz infographic explores how exoskeletons are improving both safety and productivity in the construction industry.

What Are Exoskeletons?

Exoskeletons, or exosuits, are wearable machines suited with motorized joints that aim to minimize strain and injury by providing lift support, weight dispersion, posture correction, and other capabilities.

While these machines are mainly used for physical rehabilitation at the moment, they are increasingly used by workers in construction and manufacturing.

The 2018 Q4 Commercial Construction Index found that:

  • 23% of contractors believe they’ll adopt wearable technology onsite in the next three years.
  • Nearly three-quarters of contractors believe wearable technology will improve onsite safety.
  • More than 1 in 3 contractors believe wearable technology can improve labor productivity.

So, what kinds of exoskeletons exist and what can they do for us?

Kinds of Exoskeletons

Mechanical exoskeletons use no electricity. Users enjoy longevity in the field since they don’t need recharging nor does the user need to carry a power source. Most mechanical exoskeletons take weight from a specific area of the body (like the arms and shoulders) and redistribute it to another (like the core and waist) to reduce strain and fatigue.

Partial or fully electric exoskeletons are typically more powerful than mechanical exoskeletons and handle more weight. They can target more specific areas, like the hand, and increase pressure and strength where needed.

Power gloves fit around the hand to improve dexterity for those who experience weakness or other issues with grasping tools and materials. Improved grip is helpful when carrying heavy hand tools or picking up objects.

The Ironhand from Bioservo is a soft power glove that detects the user’s natural movement via sensors. The glove senses when the user is about to grip an object and increases power based on the object’s weight. The glove also collects data to assess gripping situations that pose an ergonomic risk to the user.

Back support exosuits typically fit around your shoulders, back, and waist to reduce stress on the back from lifting heavy objects. Some back support exoskeletons correct your posture when bending or lifting depending on the manufacturer.

Whole-body exosuits are the closest thing we have today to Ripley’s one. They provide support throughout the body to minimize strain, maximize productivity and enhance strength. You can find whole-body suits that are both mechanical and electrical, each coming with their own sets of pros and cons.

So, the only question now is… Am I the only one who’s using them in my next book?

Infographic: Exoskeletons | From the blog of Nicholas C. Rossis, author of science fiction, the Pearseus epic fantasy series and children's books