One of the many technological advancements currently being touted in the construction industry is the exoskeleton or robotic exosuit. According to news and resource site Constructible, exoskeletons consist of “metal frameworks fitted with motorized muscles to multiply the wearer’s strength…The suit makes lifted objects feel much lighter, and sometimes even weightless, reducing injuries and improving compliance.” The frame of an exosuit attaches to part of the user’s body or may encapsulate the body. Some even include sensors to respond to and monitor the user’s movements. While for some, this may conjure images of the Terminator, for those in the construction industry, it can be a means of protecting workers from being injured while allowing them to work quickly and efficiently.
Exoskeletons have been developed for different industries and for a variety of purposes. Initially developed for military use, they’ve since spread to other sectors such as healthcare, manufacturing, and agriculture. They are used to assist workers with repetitive tasks and carrying heavy loads. Robotic exoskeleton systems can be active or passive. Active systems have actuators meaning they’re powered by electricity. Passive systems have become more prevalent in the construction industry in recent years since they’re more affordable and can be used all day long without requiring a recharge.
Industry analysts initially believed that full-body powered suits would dominate; more recently, the focus has been on smaller, more specialized exoskeletons. Such systems typically utilize springs and pulleys. They come in the form of back support vests, chairless chairs (wearable seats), tool-holding arms, powered gloves, and units that provide an extra set of robotic hands.
In the construction industry, the leading cause of injuries is lifting and carrying heavy objects. These types of injuries happen due to improper bending and lifting techniques, as well as overexertion. In fact, in the U.S., worker compensation due to overexertion costs employers approximately $15 billion a year. These types of injuries can also limit the number of years an individual can work in the industry. However, by utilizing exoskeleton technology, construction companies can protect their workers as well as improve the quality of their work as a result of decreased muscle fatigue.
Industry analysts ABI Research believe the robotic exoskeleton market will reach $1.8 billion by 2025. While exoskeletons may not be in widespread use throughout the construction industry just yet, they are an ever-growing trend.