A company that develops robots for industries like construction has created a “man-packable” heavy-lift system that can lift objects weighing up to 45,000 pounds. It’s a good example of the dexterity of an engineering-first firm when tasked with problems that may fall outside its primary brief but nonetheless present alluring engineering challenges.
Sarcos Robotics was founded as a spin-off of the University of Utah in 1983, making it a dinosaur among robotics outfits. But roots in research and academic engineering have made it a versatile company, one that’s done everything from automating the fountain in front of the Bellagio hotel to creating unnervingly impressive exoskeleton super suits that enable users to lift heavy loads effortlessly. Oh, and the animatronic dinosaurs for the Jurassic Park ride at Universal Studios — Sarcos did that, too, before shifting to sectors like construction and utilities.
With a line of robotics systems aimed at augmenting human strength, Sarcos has attracted considerable interest from the defense industry, as well, which it caters to through subsidiary Sarcos Defense. Thus arose the need for a solution to a common problem: Is it possible to lift a piece of heavy machinery in the field in a hurry?
If a super-strong, completely lightweight jack is what you’re after, the answer is yes. The Guardian HLS, which Sarcos developed with the Air Force Research Laboratory, uses a standard power tool battery and a pneumatic compressor, together with two proprietary, re-usable airbags made from durable Dyneema fiber.
“The Guardian HLS is a great example of the successful commercialization of a product that meets a critical military need thanks to the funding and collaboration made possible by the Air Force Small Business Innovation Research Program,” said Dr. Alok Das, Senior Scientist at AFRL’s Center for Rapid Innovation. “It is gratifying to see our innovation efforts result in products that will better equip our community to complete recovery, rescue, and maintenance missions faster and more safely than they could before.”
Sailors will be familiar with Dyneema, which is a synthetic fiber many times stronger than steel by weight and now often used in place of steel wire on sailboat rigging. That toughness and chafe-resistance allows the Guardian HLS to lift heavy military assets when inflated, including land vehicles, machinery, and fuel tanks. As seen in the embedded video, the rapid-deploy system is capable of lifting a Class 2 commercial vehicle in less than a minute.
And, crucially, it’s man-packable, meaning it can very practically be carried by a single person. Previously, lifting heavy machinery in the field required heavy mechanical lifts or heavy high-pressure air canisters. The novel use of Dyneema fiber allows the Guardian HLS can lift twice the current maximum.
The Guardian HLS has been extensively field-tested and deployed in harsh environments around the world. In addition to military applications, it could be deployed by public safety organizations and in disaster recovery.
It’s a good example of a simple (albeit technologically advanced) solution to a common problem, one that displays the good old fashioned engineering chops of a company that still has problem solving in its blood.