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Kubota developing exoskeletons for manual workers and fruit pickers


November 7, 2013

Gizmag's Mike Hanlon trying out the ARM-1

Gizmag's Mike Hanlon trying out the ARM-1

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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 Hanlon After Editing or Managing over 50 print publications primarily in the role of a Magazine Doctor, Mike embraced the internet full-time in 1995 and became a "start-up all-rounder" – quite a few start-ups later, he founded Gizmag in 2002. Now he can write again.   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.

8th November, 2013 @ 05:41 am PST

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.

8th November, 2013 @ 10:03 am PST

It needs to be painted in Kubota orange.

8th November, 2013 @ 10:46 am PST

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.

8th November, 2013 @ 11:17 am PST
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