Ford Tests Exoskeletons That Make Overhead Tasks Easier for Workers

Ford
Ford

Engineers have already developed exoskeletons capable of supporting elderly people and helping paralyzed people walk. But the technology offers benefits to able-bodied wearers as well. That's what employees are learning at Ford's U.S. factories. As Road Show reports, workers there are suiting up in upper body exoskeletons designed to alleviate fatigue and decrease their chance of injury.

Assembling car parts requires workers to reach their arms above their heads thousands of times a day. While most healthy individuals would have no problem doing this type of work for a few minutes at a time, the rate at which these employees are completing the tasks puts an enormous strain on their bodies. This can lead to back and shoulder fatigue, soreness, and even injury.

In an effort to make their workforce more comfortable and productive, Ford has been testing the EksoVest from Ekso Bionics in two of its American auto plants. The non-powered suits fit people between 5 feet and 6 feet 4 inches tall. The lightweight design provides up to 15 pounds of support to each arm without weighing wearers down or restricting their movements. According to Ford, the pilot program has contributed to an 83 percent drop in the number of incidents that led to time off between 2005 and 2016. And on top of staying healthy enough to go to work, employees have reported feeling more energized during their off hours.

The EksoVest has already helped workers launch several new vehicles, including the 2018 Ford Mustang and the 2018 Lincoln Navigator. Following the trial program's success, the automobile company next plans to test the technology in factories in Europe and South America.

[h/t Road Show]

Charge Your Gadgets Anywhere With This Pocket-Sized Folding Solar Panel

Solar Cru, YouTube
Solar Cru, YouTube

Portable power banks are great for charging your phone when you’re out and about all day, but even they need to be charged via an electrical outlet. There's only so much a power bank can do when you’re out hiking the Appalachian Trail or roughing it in the woods during a camping trip.

Enter the SolarCru—a lightweight, foldable solar panel now available on Kickstarter. It charges your phone and other electronic devices just by soaking up the sunshine. Strap it to your backpack or drape it over your tent to let the solar panel’s external battery charge during the day. Then, right before you go to bed, you can plug your electronic device into the panel's USB port to let it charge overnight.

It's capable of charging a tablet, GPS, speaker, headphones, camera, or other small wattage devices. “A built-in intelligent chip identifies each device plugged in and automatically adjusts the energy output to provide the right amount of power,” according to the SolarCru Kickstarter page.

A single panel is good “for small charging tasks,” according to the product page, but you can connect up to three panels together to nearly triple the electrical output. It takes roughly three hours and 45 minutes to charge a phone using a single panel, for instance, or about one hour if you’re using three panels at once. The amount of daylight time it takes to harvest enough energy for charging will depend on weather conditions, but it will still work on cloudy days, albeit more slowly.

The foldable panel weighs less than a pound and rolls up into a compact case that it can easily be tucked away in your backpack or jacket pocket. It’s also made from a scratch- and water-resistant material, so if you get rained out while camping, it won't destroy your only source of power.

You can pre-order a single SolarCru panel on Kickstarter for $34 (less than some power banks), or a pack of five for $145. Orders are scheduled to be delivered in March.

Watch Ford's Sweaty-Butt Robot Put a Car Seat to the Test

iStock.com/gargantiopa
iStock.com/gargantiopa

Buyers tend to look at price, safety, and gas mileage when shopping for a car; a question that rarely comes up at the dealership is how well a car seat stands up to years of butt sweat. But even if it isn't a priority for car owners, the vehicle testers at Ford work to ensure the cars that leave the factory can accommodate the sweatiest passengers.

The secret to Ford's durable seats is a device called the Robutt. This video from the car company shows a Kuka robotic arm pushing a buttocks-shaped cushion into a car seat. To replicate a person sitting in the car after exercising, the dummy butt is heated to approximately human body temperate and pumped with half a liter of water. The average person produces about 0.7 to 1.5 liters of sweat in one hour of intense exercise, and people who are especially fit perspire 1.5 to 1.8 liters in the same time.

The sit test is repeated 7500 times over three days—simulating one decade of someone driving their sweaty behind home from the gym. If the surface of a car seat can make it through all that abuse without any wear and tear, the design is good enough for a Ford vehicle. Robutt-approved seats were first introduced in the 2018 Ford Fiesta and are now being built into all Ford vehicles in Europe.

You can watch the messy process play out below. Here are some more robots that, like the Robutt, were designed for oddly specific tasks.

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