This story is from the 2016 Access 25: How Mobility is Reshaping the Globe. Explore more from this issue

Man Meets Machine

Robotic exoskeletons promise to keep us healthy and productive.

Blending human capabilities with robotic components has been the stuff of sci-fi. Now, science fiction has become science fact. Lockheed Martin, for instance, has created the HULC, a battery-powered exoskeleton that allows soldiers to haul 200 pounds of gear at speeds of up to 10 miles per hour. A company called Ekso Bionics offers a variation on the HULC that lets paralyzed people get up and move. And numerous enterprises are working on 3-D-printed robotic limbs for war victims.

The technology is also emerging in industrial applications. In Germany, Audi is using the Chairless Chair, a wearable carbon-fiber apparatus that allows assembly line workers to rest their leg muscles. And Daewoo shipyard employees in Korea now sport exoskeletons that allow them to carry and manipulate 60-pound pieces of metal as though they were balsa wood.

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