Power Jacket MK3 leaps from comic book pages into reality
July 8, 2013
In recent years Japan has erected life-sized statues of giant robots like Tetsujin-28 go (Gigantor) and a Gundam mobile suit, but statues can't defend the island nation from kaiju attack. Perhaps that is why Sagawa Electronics is bridging the gap between fantasy and reality with a working robotic exoskeleton it calls the Power Jacket MK3 that mimics your every move. And it says it will produce up to five of them for about US$123,000 apiece.
The Power Jacket MK3 is kept light thanks to a combination of aluminum and carbon fiber in its frame. It weighs just 25 kg (55 lb) despite being 2.25 m (7 ft 4 in) tall. The suit uses a master-slave system where your arms and legs are strapped to motorized joints that, when moved, drive the motion of the suit's corresponding limbs.
The suit contains a total of 14 servo motors (8 of which were designed by the team). Currently its arms are capable of lifting about 15 kg (33 lb), but for safety reasons they are limiting it to just 2 kg (4.4 lb).
The suit's construction is robust enough to handle a quick jog, and the hands are delicate enough to pick up an egg without cracking it. The company plans to showcase the suit publicly at Wonder Festival 2013 later this month, and has created a comic to help flesh out its story. Like the Kuratas mecha and 4-m tall biped robot, it's a novelty project that's more fun than it is practical, but we're ok with that.
Watch the ghastly "Scarface Santaro" present the suit in this humorous demonstration video (which thankfully has English subtitles):
That's not the only giant exoskeleton in town
Another giant suit project by Team Skeletonics preceded the Power Jacket MK3 by a couple of years. It was developed between 2010 and 2011, and could be easily confused with the Power Jacket MK3. However, we're told the two projects are unrelated, and besides, the Skeletonics (Skeleton + Mechanics) suit is human-powered only.
The Skeletonics suit uses a series of interconnected linkages to move the arms. You simply strap yourself in, and the suit mimics your movements (only the gripper hands are motorized). It stands 2.5 m (8 ft 2 in) tall and weighs 25 kg (55 lb). As cool as it is, there's an even bigger and better version on its way.
Team Skeletonics is currently working on a motorized suit called the Exonnecs that it says will stand 3.5 meters (11 ft 5 in) tall and weigh 200 kg (440 lb). Not only that, but it will transform from an upright walking mode to a ground-based vehicle mode capable of traveling up to 80 km/h (50 mph)!
Sadly we'll have to wait a bit longer before we can see the Exonnecs in action, but you can watch a demonstration of the Skeletonics suit in this video:
Real exoskeletons are on the march
The above two examples are fun, but they have more in common with animatronic movie props than real exoskeletons. Several companies are currently developing suits that can significantly augment human strength, like Cyberdyne's HAL and Lockheed Martin's HULC. Check out Gizmag's coverage of exoskeletons to learn more about the state of the art in this promising field of wearable robotics.
Update (11 Jul, 2013): Sagawa Electronics has provided us with some details on the Power Jacket MK3's power supply. It's powered by a 11.1 V, 20 Ah lithium ion battery that gives the exoskeleton a maximum movable time of 1.5 hours per charge.