Kubota developing exoskeletons for manual workers and fruit pickers
Gizmag's Mike Hanlon trying out the ARM-1
Osaka-based Kubota Corporation has built a robust brand for its agricultural machinery over the last three decades, and hence it was no surprise to see the company showing an unpowered exoskeleton at the International Robotics Exhibition.
Though not yet at market, the ARM-1 is a finished product that is expected to sell in the range of JPY 110,000 to 120,000 (US$1,100 to $1,200) as a productivity aid for fruit picking and any activity where a worker's arms are held above their shoulders for extended periods.
For my sins, I spent a university vacation picking fruit many moons ago, and still recall the pain in my back and arms from having my arms above my shoulders for 10 to 12 hours a day. After trying the ARM-1 in a faux grape-picking situation, I immediately understood the benefits. Think of the ARM-1 as an adjustable set of arm rests, that are stabilized by the exoskeleton structure and anchored on the hips and shoulders.
What I wouldn't have given for one of these back then. Instead of resting my arms back by my side and then raising them again, repeatedly, thousands of times a day, it would have been much easier and far less stressful, to drop them a few inches onto the arm rests.
About the Author
Mike grew up thinking he would become a mathematician, accidentally started motorcycle racing, got a job writing road tests for a motorcycle magazine while at university, and became a writer. As a travelling photojournalist during his early career, his work was published in a dozen languages across 20+ countries. He went on to edit or manage over 50 print publications, with target audiences ranging from pensioners to plumbers, many different sports, many car and motorcycle magazines, with many more in the fields of communication - narrow subject magazines on topics such as advertising, marketing, visual communications, design, presentation and direct marketing. Then came the internet and Mike managed internet projects for Australia's largest multimedia company, Telstra.com.au (Australia's largest Telco), Seek.com.au (Australia's largest employment site), top100.com.au, hitwise.com, and a dozen other internet start-ups before founding Gizmag in 2002. Now he writes and thinks.
All articles by Mike Hanlon
There are a multitude of other tasks that could benefit from this. One I can think of is mudding/plastering of ceilings. I know of an experienced mudder who has basically quit doing ceilings because of the strain on his shoulders.
I'm not sure I would call it an exoskeleton since it doesn't move or enhance strength. By that usage, a simple back brace would be an exoskeleton.
This seems to be strictly a static positioning device based on the limited information in the article, but I may be wrong. I would prefer that it was an active positioning device by spring-loading the armrests at the shoulder pivots to reduce the effort of reaching up, basically making your arms weightless or even slightly buoyant, but not with so much spring force that it takes serious effort to pull the arms down to your sides and not restricting your range of movement.
It needs to be painted in Kubota orange.
A simple upgrade for this would be to have a chute attached that leads right up to the wrist where pickers could simply drop their picked fruit without having to drop their arms down to a bag or box. The chute would allow the dropped fruit to gently roll/slide down to a container on the picker's back or side, or could even travel further.
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