The next step for protective clothing
A new robotic suit could be the future for personal protective equipment (PPE), according to the Japanese company that is at the forefront of developing the technology.
Robotic suits, or exoskeletons, are already used in a number of settings. In the military, for example, they are helping service men and women to carry heavy loads over longer distances. They have also had limited success in helping paralysed people to walk and move more easily.
Now, they could be ready to enter the emergency services and industrial worlds, and become an essential PPE component.
That is what ActiveLink thinks after the Panasonic-owned company demonstrated its PowerLoaders suit in Japan at the start of June.
Most particularly, according to the president of the firm, it could help workers operate in areas with high levels of radiation or other contaminants. Items of protective clothing in such environments are extremely heavy, and rely on equally heavy electronic packs – known as PackBots. Hiromichi Fujimoto, from the company behind the technology, commented:
"Our powered suits could be used to assist and support remote-controlled robots in emergencies.
“Workers could wear the suits to carry PackBots to their deployment point and to work in low-radiation areas."
Spurred on by the conditions and tiring work that people at the devastated Fukushima plant in Japan are coping with – and with support from Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Japan Atomic Power – the development of the powered suits is hoped to be ready for more stringent testing in 2017.
If that prototype is successful, Panasonic is expected to provide the manufacturing facilities and organise sales and support for the suits.