One year ago, for IEEE Spectrum’s special report on the Top Tech for 2019, Sarcos Robotics promised that by the end of the year they’d be ready to ship a powered exoskeleton that would be the future of industrial work. And late last month, Sarcos invited us to Salt Lake City, Utah, to see what that future looks like.
Sarcos has been developing powered exoskeletons and the robotic technologies that make them possible for decades, and the lobby of the company’s headquarters is a resting place for concepts and prototype hardware that’s been abandoned along the way. But now, Sarcos is ready to unveil the prototype of the Guardian XO, a strength-multiplying exoskeleton that’s about to begin shipping.
As our introductory briefing concludes, Sarcos CEO Ben Wolff is visibly excited to be able to show off what they’ve been working on in their lab. “If you were to ask the question, What does 30 years and US$300 million look like,” Wolff tells us, “you’re going to see it downstairs.”
This is what we see downstairs:
GIF: Evan Ackerman/IEEE Spectrum
Guardian XO operator Fletcher Garrison demonstrates the company’s exosuit by lifting a 125-pound payload. Sarcos says this task usually requires three people.
How the Guardian XO Works
The Sarcos Guardian XO is a 24-degrees-of-freedom full-body robotic exoskeleton. While wearing it, a human can lift 200 pounds (90 kilograms) while feeling like they’re lifting just 10 lbs (4.5 kg). The Guardian XO is fully electrical and untethered with a runtime of 2 hours, and hot-swappable battery packs can keep it going for a full workday. It takes seconds to put on and take off, and Sarcos says new users can be trained to use the system in minutes. One Guardian XO costs $100,000 per year to rent, and the company will be shipping its first batch of alpha units to customers (including both heavy industry and the U.S. military) in January.
In a practical sense, the Guardian XO is a humanoid robot that uses a real human as its command and control system. As companies of all kinds look towards increasing efficiency through automation, Sarcos believes that the most effective solution is a direct combination of humans and machines, enhancing the intelligence and judgement of humans with the strength and endurance of robots. (Investors in the company include Caterpillar, GE Ventures, Microsoft, and Schlumberger.)
The first thing to understand about the Guardian XO is that like a humanoid robot, it’s self-supporting. Since it has its own legs and feet, the 150 lb weight of the suit (and whatever it’s carrying) bypasses its user and is transferred directly into the ground. You don’t strap the robot to you—you strap yourself to the robot, a process that takes less than a minute. So although it looks heavy and bulky (and it is definitely both of those things), at least the weight of the system isn’t something that the user experiences directly. You can see how that works by watching Guardian XO operator Fletcher Garrison lifting all kinds of payloads in the video below.
Go to IEEE The Institue to read the complete article.