by Mary Lee
RICHMOND (KPIX 5) — An East Bay company has announced its cutting-edge exoskeleton bionic vests will be tested by autoworkers to cut down on work-related injuries.
Richmond-based Ekso Bionics and Ford Motor Company say the EksoVests are being introduced in 15 auto plants in seven countries to protect workers against repetitive stress injuries.
Workers on a car assembly line are constantly reaching up with a drill in their hand tightening screws. “Typically they have to hit up about 12 spots per vehicle whenever the car goes overhead,” said Kevin Dacey, EksoVest Project Manager.
The vest helps you lift, adding up to 15 pounds of support when you raise your arm. Testing the vest out at Ekso Bionics headquarters on Tuesday, I quickly felt my arm shoot up when the spring inside kicked in.
“Once your arm hits about 30 degrees, that torque is kicked in … and that shoots your arm up for you,” said Dacey.
The average Ford employee does this repetitive motion 4,600 times a day, or about 1.2 million times a year.
It shows that the technology we’re working on is helping people and it decreases pain and improves endurance,” said Darrell Musick, Ekso Bionics Clinical Services VP.
Nicholas Gotts is already using the EksoVest on a Mustang assembly line at a Ford plant in Michigan. When he wears it, he immediately feels the extra boost it gives. “[My co-workers] call me Rocket Man or Superman all the time, or Mr. Incredible,” said Gotts. “Wearing the suit, I’m not ‘Oh, I’m tired,’ I can go home and have fun and go play catch with my daughter.”
Exoskeletons date back to at least the 1960s when General Electric developed a giant prototype for the military. The technology has also shown promise in helping people with spinal cord injuries walk.
Analysts expect the exoskeleton market to grow from $68 million in 2014 to $1.8 billion in 2025.
Ekso Bionics’ vests cost around $4,000. The company is hoping their technology will augment every aspect of human life.