Patlabor on the production line
December 5, 2017 4:09 PM   Subscribe

Smets handed me a power tool, flipped a physical switch on the arm of the vest, and told me to raise my arms over my head as though I was on an assembly line. At some point during my movement, the exosuit kicked into action, its spring mechanism lifting my arms the rest of the way. I could leave my arms in place above my head, too, fully supported. My fingers started to tingle after awhile in that position. Are exoskeletons the future of physical labor?
posted by Artw (38 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
 
This is all super-exciting and empowering until wealthy, aging oligarchs start buying exoskeletons, and then add armor and lasers.

Suddenly, every day is a Michael Bay movie.
posted by mecran01 at 4:39 PM on December 5 [5 favorites]


Used to worry about robots taking all of our jobs. Now I'm worried about becoming the robot.
posted by The Great David S. Pumpkins at 4:49 PM on December 5 [10 favorites]


I imagine a more prosaic dystopia where we wear these things to work and find we aren't physically able to walk to the bathroom or stop to take an unscheduled break. But this assumes people are still meaningfully involved in work, probably they'll just have robots dealing with the labor and other robots dealing with the surplus humanity.
posted by rodlymight at 5:01 PM on December 5 [4 favorites]


GET AWAY FROM HER, YOU BITCH!
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 5:01 PM on December 5 [15 favorites]


[reference]
posted by mecran01 at 5:11 PM on December 5


Or, call me crazy, maybe we just cut down on the number of repetitive strain injuries that factory workers get.
posted by GuyZero at 5:11 PM on December 5 [14 favorites]


Now I'm worried about becoming the robot.

His numerous legs, pitifully thin in comparison to the rest of his circumference, flickered helplessly before his eyes.
posted by flabdablet at 5:14 PM on December 5 [8 favorites]


While I'm sure these will be used for lots of evil, I have worries about the long-term future of my back that this technology assuages somewhat. Hope I can afford one if/when necessary.
posted by Grimp0teuthis at 5:21 PM on December 5 [2 favorites]


On the recreational side of things, I totally want an outdoor/sport exoskelton the same way I like bicycles or even hiking/trekking poles.

I mean, let's talk about seriously long distance trail running at speed or being able to jump over houses and stuff and all that fun SF supersuit stuff. It would be way cool.

But as an aspiring photographer with rapidly aging knees, I would love to be able to pack more water and gear into remote places I could only get to by foot to be able to stay out in the field longer.

One of my main logistical difficulties for, say, going out and shooting auroras or the night sky all night (often in near or below freezing temps) isn't battery life or gear but being able to carry enough water and calories to stay hydrated and fueled. On very cold nights I often carry a tiny little "penny stove" that weighs less than an empty soda can for hot coffee, tea and soup to keep me warm and fueled. My tripod is compact and lightweight, and my camera is a mirrorless compact, so the actual photo gear is pretty minimal beyond a few small filters.

And with water, food, appropriate clothes, camera gear and so on I'm still often pushing 30-40+ pound packs and it's still not really enough water or exposure-fighting comfort to stay in the field and in the zone for as long as I would like.

So, yeah, I'd love to be able to easily and quietly carry a 100+ pound pack for extended distances on foot over rough terrain and altitude gains.

I could also see exoskeletons being used in photography and film. You stand around a lot and lift a lot of heavy things. You could throw a small crane, steadicam or actively stabilized gimbal rig on a smooth powered exoskeleton and turn it into a monster of a mobile dolly.

But yeah, no, I'll never be able to afford one of these things and they're probably going to make 'em into murderbots.
posted by loquacious at 5:29 PM on December 5 [15 favorites]


Maybe they'll get affordable at some point, like those knockoff, exploding "hoverboards."
posted by mecran01 at 5:31 PM on December 5 [2 favorites]


Lauren Goode was wearing some clothes that really didn't seem safe for a manufacturing environment. I was dreading her getting caught in something.
posted by Bee'sWing at 5:43 PM on December 5


like those knockoff, exploding "hoverboards."

Yes please! I too wish to experience life with an incendiary battery strapped to my vital organs.
posted by flabdablet at 5:44 PM on December 5 [5 favorites]


if you can require all your sharing-economy 1099 day laborers to furnish their own exos, you can raise the retirement age to 95.
posted by j_curiouser at 5:44 PM on December 5 [12 favorites]


I'm going to build a fence builder builder and make the fence builders pay for it.
posted by The Great David S. Pumpkins at 5:52 PM on December 5 [4 favorites]


Yes please! I too wish to experience life with an incendiary battery strapped to my vital organs.

Suicide vest couture.
posted by mecran01 at 6:01 PM on December 5 [2 favorites]


Or, call me crazy, maybe we just cut down on the number of repetitive strain injuries that factory workers get.

That... seems to be exactly what they're trying to do? If you are pushing for powered exoskeleton-less solutions for reducing injuries among factory workers, I am all for that, but I don't see why we should not also push for powered exoskeleton-ful solutions as well.
posted by J.K. Seazer at 6:19 PM on December 5 [6 favorites]


(That was a reaction to the other comments in the thread.)
posted by tobascodagama at 6:25 PM on December 5


Now I'm worried about becoming the robot.

I have some very bad news for you about the nature of wage labor.
posted by The Horse You Rode In On at 6:58 PM on December 5 [8 favorites]


Oh, sorry. In my defense, I've basically come to expect several rounds of knee-jerk Luddism every time we have a thread about some cool new tech.
posted by J.K. Seazer at 7:00 PM on December 5 [2 favorites]


Six and half k seems like peanuts compared to the overall cost of even a modest shoulder injury.
posted by Sebmojo at 7:08 PM on December 5 [3 favorites]


several rounds of knee-jerk Luddism

But just think of the power an exoskeleton could add to those jerks!
posted by flabdablet at 7:14 PM on December 5 [7 favorites]


I think about the potential these have as mobility aids for the elderly or others who could use help standing or walking and all my snark just dries right up.
posted by advicepig at 7:18 PM on December 5 [4 favorites]


Six and half k seems like peanuts compared to the overall cost of even a modest shoulder injury


In the US.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 7:21 PM on December 5 [7 favorites]


Why can't we use these exoskeletons to more easily dismember and/or dispose of the oligarchy? win-win.
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 7:26 PM on December 5 [2 favorites]


Because that would be more efficiently done by a series of whirling blades?
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 7:28 PM on December 5 [2 favorites]


In the US.

Having the cost of an injury be more than the cost of protective equipment is actually one of the rare features of our system.

Were it not for that, human bodies would be literally just consumables in every process diagram and flowchart.
posted by Kadin2048 at 7:45 PM on December 5 [8 favorites]


I've always wondered why some sort of joint locking/ratchet mechanism hasn't evolved. It seems it would have quite a lot of energy benefit.
posted by lastobelus at 9:51 PM on December 5 [1 favorite]


Many have evolved. The shoulder joint of the albatross is an example. It locks into place so the wings stay spread. Makes gliding for a year without touching ground possible. Check out Pennycuick 1982 for some wonderful naturalism/biomechanics.
posted by andorphin at 10:20 PM on December 5 [7 favorites]


Yeah, when I read this article I thought "I bet metafilter is going good to make this out as the most horrifying invention since fire."

First post:
This is all super-exciting and empowering until wealthy, aging oligarchs start buying exoskeletons, and then add armor and lasers

Yep.

Metafilter is so predictable.
posted by happyroach at 10:34 PM on December 5 [4 favorites]


The shoulder joint of the albatross is an example. It locks into place so the wings stay spread.

Likewise claws on any bird that roosts on branches.
posted by flabdablet at 10:36 PM on December 5 [3 favorites]


companies like Panasonic, Honda, and Cyberdyne have marketed exoskeletons

Oh, you are not even *trying*. At least call your company Shinohara Heavy Industries or something.
posted by Molesome at 2:20 AM on December 6 [6 favorites]


I am a safety manager in a manufacturing plant who is very excited about this. We deal with large heavy things that need to be moved from place to place, and due to the shape and configurations, using traditional aids like hoists, forklifts, roller tables, etc is not always feasible.

It hasn't been discussed too much that I've seen, but package handlers/drivers seem like a group that would hugely benefit from this technology. I suppose if they take a long time to take off/put on and are not comfortable to drive in they will not be feasible for a UPS delivery driver who is doing a lot of quick stops. However, watching the guys that load baggage on and off planes? Tons of potential there.

These are jobs that are (probably) not going to be replaced by robots soon, so aiding people where it's possible to do so is a good thing.
posted by Fig at 6:24 AM on December 6 [8 favorites]


There’s an interesting gender element to these strength enhancing exoskeletons as well. “Men are naturally stronger” is used as a convenient (and false) excuse to keep women out of a number of well-paying jobs with a physical labor component that don’t necessarily require a university degree. Intrinsic physical strength kind of stops mattering in the work world - even less than it does right now - if everyone is using strength-enhancing exoskeletons to perform physical labor.
posted by faineg at 6:52 AM on December 6 [7 favorites]


If this gets more people to watch one of my favorite anime from the 90's, Mobile Police Patlabor, I am all in.
posted by Major Matt Mason Dixon at 8:27 AM on December 6 [3 favorites]


Technically, and to my chagrin, these are NOT patrolling labors, but that would fuck up the ref in the time so eeeeeh.
posted by Artw at 8:32 AM on December 6


I'm unclear about how these work. They keep talking about how there are no electronics in them (minus that one set of leg ones). I feel like I must have missed some kind of explanation. Is it a ratcheting system of some sort, like a seatbelt?
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 4:35 PM on December 6


I believe it's "unpowered" and works on a mechanical basis with counterweights and the overall weight of the device is planted on the floor, kind of like this (Ars link). I suppose walking with it could require more effort? Unless there's more mechanical black magic involved. But standing should be neutral.
posted by xdvesper at 1:54 AM on December 7 [1 favorite]


I worked in exoskeleton development in grad school for several years in the early aughts. mostly lower body stuff and it's really not fun to wear these things. does anyone enjoy wearing a knee brace for a long time?

attaching to soft flesh is really hard, achieving any real lasting power production comparable to muscle is really hard, and it's much easier to just have another person help you or add some sort of spring loaded passive assist for holding tools(these exist all over factories now).
to me, this is definitely grad student robot technology looking for a problem to solve...

i mean it's wonderful that the guy on the assembly line has help raising his arms above his head 4 million times a day but honestly, that seems like maybe an opportunity for process redesign... as many of these systems where a technology patch is applied to a problem, rather than a whole systems check of "what the hell are we doing here?"
posted by danjo at 7:07 AM on December 7 [3 favorites]


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