Robotics Maker Moves from War Machines to Powering Up Workforce

Source: Industry Week |

Sarcos Robotics CEO Ben Wolff talks about how the company that started the 21st century as a military contractor, could soon give general contractors, and any industrial worker, super powers.

The 35-year-old Sarcos Robotics is about to redefine how the toughest industrial jobs are done, although if you’ve heard of the Salt-Lake City-based company, you may only associate it with bleeding edge military projects.

Since 2000, Sarcos has been on the front lines of the push to create force-multiplying exoskeletons, suits a person dons to increase strength. DARPA first funded the bioengineering enterprise in 2000 to help soldiers carry heavy loads. Newer, stronger exoskeletons followed suit as a subsidiary of Raytheon, with the XOS-2 drawing comparisons in the press to Iron Man. Next year, the now independent Sarcos will unveil the latest in industrial fashion, the Guardian XO and XO MAX. The battery-powered exoskeletons will allow users to lift 80 lb. and 200 lb. respectively with zero strain on the wearer for up to eight hours. There’s also the Guardian GT, a rideable mech with two powerful arms that can be teleoperated.

To ensure the new power suits can meet the needs of the industry, Sarcos partnered with BMW, CAT, GE and others to form the Exoskeleton Technical Advisory Group (X-TAG), which will meet quarterly to discuss design and application considerations.

Chairman and CEO Ben Wolff, who came from the private equity world, has led this power play after his management team bought the company in 2015. The former lawyer recently shared with IndustryWeek how this change came about and what it means for workers.

IndustryWeek: But with exoskeletons, you keep the machine’s brawn and person’s brain. What are the benefits and challenges with that?

Wolff: We’ve obviously at Sarcos chosen to try and deploy robots into the most challenging environments where the environment or the task is unstructured. And that makes it a real challenge to implement artificial intelligence. If you think about how many different variables and sensor inputs the human brain has to deal with, just to do a basic task like walk from wherever you are to your mode of transportation. The number of algorithms if, you will, that are being calculated in your head are in the billions. It’s a challenge at least in the near term to have a robot be able to do all of those things and be able to exercise judgment the way a human can in unconstrained environments or unconfined environments. So I think we’re going to see a bifurcation between those robots that rely on human intelligence to be able to perform non-repetitive tasks if you will, versus those robots that will increasingly rely on algorithms or artificial intelligence to be able to get their jobs done.

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