Possibly Coming Soon To A Ford Plant Near You: Bionic Workers

A hi-tech company in the U.S. state of California has made a robotic vest to help labor-intensive workers lift heavier objects with less strength, local media said Friday.

"Collaboratively working with Ford enabled us to test and refine early prototypes of the EksoVest based on insights directly from their production line workers", Russ Angold, Ekso's cofounder and chief technology officer, said in a written statement.

"My job entails working over my head, so when I get home my back, neck and shoulders usually hurt", said Paul Collins, a worker at Ford's Michigan Assembly Plant.

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Designed to fit workers from five feet to six feet four inches tall, the EksoVest adds some 3 to 6 kilograms (5 to 15 pounds) of adjustable lift assistance to each arm.

The exoskeleton is called the EksoVest and it is developed by Ekso Bionics in partnership with Ford.

But the idea isn't science fiction, and appeals to both the union and Ford for the same reason: the exoskeletons have the potential to reduce on-the-job injuries, as well make workers more efficient, since they're less tired from doing the same repetitive tasks. Ekso Bionics says the system is best for tools that weigh up to eight pounds but will also provide arm support for tasks that have no tools, but still require one's arms to be raised for extended periods of time, for example, when a worker is snapping a fuel line into place by hand.

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EksoVest is designed for real-world environments such as factories and construction sites so as to reduce injury and stress on the body as a result of long-duration activities.

That is a little over half the rate of 2.9 cases per 100 workers for private employers in 2016, according to U.S. government data. "With the proven success at the piloted locations, we look forward to expanding this technology to our other UAW-Ford manufacturing facilities".

"Our goal has always been to keep the work environment safe and productive for the hardworking men and women we rely on across the globe", said Bruce Hettle, Ford group vice president, Manufacturing and Labor Affairs.

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