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Alpha “super suit” heading to industry, military customers

Source: ZDNet / Greg Nichols – December 10, 2019

Literally, Iron Man is happening, and one company has emerged as an early frontrunner in the robot suit game.

A robotics company based in Salt Lake City is about to blow up news feeds with the release of a device that, as a species, we’ve been anticipating for a generation but still feels wildly futuristic. The device from Sarcos Robotics is a wearable powered exoskeleton specifically targeting industry.

Welcome to the age of the super worker.

A couple years ago, when I got a glimpse of an early iteration of this super suit during a visit to Sarcos’ headquarters in Salt Lake City, I wrote that this is the smartest robotics company around. My argument centered around a quirk in the robotics sector: That development so far has outpaced adoptions in many corners of the robotics market.

Sarcos, on the other hand, which now has three robotic products geared at industrial and defense customers, has been savvy in pursuing relationships with big players that can actual help find market fit for its products, including construction giant Caterpillar, GE Ventures, which manufactures components used in power plants, and Schlumberger Unlimited, the world’s largest oilfield services company, to name a few. The result is a market adoption plan that grounds the wildly ambitious hardware development Sarcos has been doing with a clear path to gaining customers.

The new industrial exoskeleton, called the Guardian XO, is no exception. From an engineering and pure wonderment perspective, it’s also one of the coolest robots to be heading to market in a long time.

The Guardian XO is the world’s first battery-powered wearable robot that can safely lift up to 200 pounds. The company is careful to point out the robot, which is worn like a suit, is designed to augment rather than replace humans, leveraging human intelligence, instinct, and judgment with the strength, endurance, and precision of machines to address skilled labor shortages and occupational safety issues across many industries.

The first Guardian XO Alpha units will ship to members of Sarcos’ Industrial Exoskeleton Technical Advisory Group (X-TAG), which we covered in 2018 and includes leading manufacturers in industrial, automotive, aviation & aerospace, construction, oil & gas, and utilities. That range suggests the broad customer base for an exoskeleton to augment human strength.

The U.S. military will also be getting Guardian XO Alphas when they become available in January 2020. The 20 years of development that went into the Guardian XO in fact started with the military. The product is an outgrowth of a DARPA program that proved a watershed moment for exoskeleton technology. Ekso Bionics, another company that sells exoskeletons and has focused on the medical space while also pivoting into industrial applications, was also part of that DARPA program.

“The Guardian XO is a great example of what can happen when private industry and government join forces with a small, innovative team to address a common challenge,” says Ben Wolff, Sarcos chairman and CEO.

He continues, “The Guardian XO Alpha units are the culmination of twenty years of effort by our team and represent a huge step forward as we prepare to ship our first commercial Guardian XO wearable robots to our customers in the latter part of 2020,” said Wolff. “Delivery of our Alpha units represents the first time in history that industrial and military customers will gain access to a full-body, powered exoskeleton that can safely enable humans to intuitively lift and dexterously manipulate objects weighing up to 200 pounds and walk at human speed for extended work sessions. With the growing shortage of skilled labor across industries and the rising social and economic costs associated with occupational musculoskeletal injuries, we have an enormous opportunity to benefit employees and companies alike.”