Wearable exoskeletons, that can augment and provide assistance to the wearer’s performance, are an old technology concept stretching back to the sixties, but in recent years interest in their application has been reinvigorated. Although much of the long term research for these devices has been focused on applications in the military and medical fields, there is a growing appetite in manufacturing and wider industries to deploy these suits to improve worker performance at the individual and strategic level. This is being driven by demand (especially in aging highly developed countries) to get the most out of skilled production workers in an increasingly tight labor market.
Exoskeletons can be divided into roughly two categories, passive and active. Passive suits are fully mechanical and have no motors, and are intended to improve ergonomics and effectively distribute weight for wearers. They are currently seeing widespread adoption across multiple verticals and with big companies in automotive, aerospace, logistics, and construction. Active robotic exoskeletons is a more ambitious technology that uses some form of motors for actuation, enabling them to provide significant lift assistance to workers. They are being trialed in various use-cases and will be deployed in notable numbers for the first time in 2019.
Beyond the exoskeletons themselves, technologies like AR, smart wearables, data analytics, location technologies, and Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) are developing at an accelerating rate. A key challenge for exoskeleton companies will be building adjacency with these capabilities and incorporating them into their solution, as value continues to shift towards value-added services.