Audi is testing a new technology that eases many assembly activities: the so-called “chairless chair.” This high-tech carbon-fiber construction allows employees to sit without a chair. At the same time, it improves their posture and reduces the strain on their legs.
* Three prototypes in use on assembly lines in Neckarsulm
* Carbon-fiber construction supports employees in assembly work
Audi AG is a German automobile manufacturer that designs, engineers, produces, markets and distributes luxury automobiles. They produced about 1.75 million luxury cars in 2014. They have 11 production facilities in 9 countries.
The chairless chair eases many assembly activities. This high-tech carbon-fiber construction allows Audi employees to sit without a chair. At the same time, it improves their posture and reduces the strain on their legs.
The chairless chair, which Audi has further developed together with a Swiss start‑up company, is an exoskeleton that is worn on the back of the legs. It is fastened with belts to the hips, knees and ankles. Two leather‑covered surfaces support the buttocks and thighs while two struts made of carbon‑fiber‑reinforced plastic (CFRP) adapt to the contours of the leg. They are jointed behind the knee and can be hydraulically adjusted to the wearer’s body size and the desired sitting position. Body weight is transferred into the floor through these adjustable elements. The chairless chair itself weighs just 2.4 kilograms. Dr. Stephan Weiler, the doctor responsible for ergonomic workplace design in Audi’s health department: “The chairless chair is a clear demonstration that Audi places priority on attractive and well‑designed workplaces. This construction reduces the stress and strain on our employees’ knees and ankles in an ideal manner.”
While working, employees wear the chairless chair like a second pair of legs to provide support whenever needed. For many assembly operations, it allows employees to sit in an ergonomically favorable position instead of standing – even with short working intervals. At the same time, this high‑tech supporting structure improves posture and reduces strain on the legs. Chairs and stools, which are currently used in some assembly operations as temporary aids, become unnecessary. At the same time, Audi hopes that use of the exoskeleton will reduce employee absenteeism for physical reasons. “With the use of the chairless chair, we are continuously improving ergonomics in assembly operations. We also anticipate new applications for colleagues with reduced physical capabilities,” stated Dr. Mathias Keil, Head of Industrial Engineering Methods at AUDI AG.
Starting this week, Audi employees are gaining experience with three pilot prototypes of the chairless chair on A4* and A6* assembly lines at the Neckarsulm plant – with cockpit pre-assembly for example. Until now, the employees there worked only while standing. They now have significantly less physical stress due to the supportive carbon-fiber device, which allows them to alternate between sitting and standing while working. Audi will start a test phase also at the Ingolstadt plant in May. After that, the company will deploy the chairless chair in series production.
This is part of a trend to boost the productivity of factory and dock workers by an estimated 30% over the next ten years
Human Augmentation System (HAS)
– Increases productivity and quality of work, with reduced injury
Lockheed’s Mantis (industrial exoskeleton adapted from the military HULC exoskeleton), which the Bethesda, Md.-based company envisions as finding a home in any industry in which workers must hold heavy equipment that can cause fatigue and back injuries.
Mantis has a mechanical extension for a wearer’s arm and absorbs the strain from hefting a grinder or sander, Maxwell said. Tests found productivity gains of more than 30 percent, he said, and wearers showed their Macarena footwork to demonstrate the suits’ flexibility.
Lockheed Martin’s (LMT) HULC and MANTIS prototypes, which look like leg braces and a large backpack, can significantly increase an individual’s strength. The MANTIS is slated for sale later this year and can make wielding heavy equipment in a factory or shipyard nearly effortless. California-based Ekso Bionics, meanwhile, employs exoskeleton technology to make suits for paraplegics that allow some disabled people to walk for the first time. It says it has sold 29 of the $130,000 devices worldwide so far. The market for such technology is pegged at some $10 billion over the next 10 years.
The biggest problem? Power. Most exoskeletons are battery operated, so they don’t have much range yet. Still, MIT professor Hugh Herr is convinced. “The era that we’re now entering is the bionic age,” he says.
zeroG – Exoskeletal Arm Systems:
– Allows operators to use heavy tools as if weightless
– Supports the tool through a wide range of motion
– Requires no power
– Can reduce vibration transmission to operator
– Single arm stabilize tools up to 40 lbs
MANTIS – Lower Body Exoskeleton
– Provides critical mobility platform
– Transfers loads through structure to the ground
– Anthropomorphic design maintains operator flexibility
– No power, electronics, actuation required
– Simple to operate and minimal training required
Initial Heavy Tool Application Targets:
– Heat Induction tools
– Blasting / Hydrolancing
– Needle Guns
– Impact Wrenches
– Torque Wrenches
Wave of human augmentation is coming
Ekso Bionics’ device for spinal patients looks like the lower half of a black metal skeleton able to stand by itself on foot pads. Parker Hannifin’s medical model breaks into five pieces and resembles elongated, plastic football thigh pads worn on the sides of users’ legs.
Electric motors amplify the strength in their wearers’ limbs or, in the case of the wheelchair-bound, to supply motive power. Computers and sensors help provide balance and guidance.
“There’s a huge wave of human augmentation coming,” said Ekso Bionics Chief Executive Officer Nathan Harding, whose Richmond, Calif.-based company has devices in operation at New York’s Mount Sinai Hospital, the Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation in New Jersey and other spinal-cord injury centers. “It’s in its infancy.”
HULC 2.0 exoskeleton will be worn under a uniform
Lockheed envisions a leap forward in battlefield mobility with its Human Universal Load Carrier — whose HULC acronym evokes images of Marvel Comics’ Incredible Hulk, a green, super- strong mutant and sometime-ally of Iron Man. HULC is intended to let a soldier lug a 200-pound pack with minimal effort over a 20-kilometer (12.4-mile) hike, Maxwell said.
Back strain is the most common non-combat injury because of the heavy packs soldiers carry, Maxwell said. Lockheed licensed some technology from Ekso Bionics to produce the HULC, which is set to enter a second development phase this year as the system is refined so it can be worn under a uniform.
Workers building the world’s biggest ships could soon don robotic exoskeletons to lug around 100-kilogram hunks of metal. The exoskeleton fits anyone between 160 and 185 centimetres tall. Workers do not feel the weight of its 28-kilogram frame of carbon, aluminium alloy and steel, as the suit supports itself and is engineered to follow the wearer’s movements. With a 3-hour battery life, the exoskeleton allows users to walk at a normal pace and, in its prototype form, it can lift objects with a mass of up to 30 kilograms.
To don the exoskeleton, workers start by strapping their feet on to foot pads at the base of the robot. Padded straps at the thigh, waist and across the chest connect the user to the suit, allowing the robot to move with their bodies as it bears loads for them. A system of hydraulic joints and electric motors running up the outside of the legs links to a backpack, which powers and controls the rig.
* Soldiers wearing HULC are able to carry loads up to 200 pounds with minimal effort
* HULC uses four pounds of lithium polymer batteries will run the exoskeleton for an hour walking at 3mph, according to Lockheed. Speed marching at up to 7mph reduces this somewhat; a battery-draining “burst” at 10mph is the maximum speed
Lockheed HULC exoskeleton
Panasonic talked about making 1000 factory worker exoskeletons for 2015
Yahoo Japan via Japancrush reports that the first affordable, mass-produced robotic exoskeleton will be on sale next year from Panasonic. For 500,000 yen, or slightly under $5,000, this full-body power garment will let you hoist 100-kilo (220-pound) objects and move at speeds up to 8 kph (5 mph).
Activelink, the Panasonic subsidiary responsible for the suit, plans to begin rollout of the first batch of 1000 starting in 2015. At its heart will be a lithium-ion battery pack that can provide for several hours of general purpose activity.
Fictional Exoskeleton in Aliens Movie
This would fulfill the movie Aliens.
Ripley – I can drive that loader. I’ve got a Class Two rating. My latest career move.
-After getting into the exosuit loader and picking up a box
Ripley – Where do you want it
Apone – Cargo Bay 3. Please
SOURCE – Audi, Daewoo, Lockheed
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
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