Panasonic launching cheap exoskeleton power suits to lift heavy objects - On sale in 2015

01/04/2014 - 00:00

Panasonic have announced that their “powered suit” will go into mass production this year. The suit, which will enable the wearer to greatly enhance their strength, will sell at the relatively reasonable price of 500,000 yen.

Netizens are excited by the idea, with some seeing it as a glimpse into the future role of robotics in modern life.

On January 2, it was revealed that Panasonic’s “Powered Suit”, which mechanically supports physical strength to lift heavy objects is to go into global mass production for the first time. They will also be on sale in 2015. Over a year 1000 suits will be produced, and the price for one suit is expected to cost 500,000 yen [approx. $4788]. It is expected that the suit will be used in situations where short-term operations are required, such as to help with disasters and within nuclear power stations. In the future, Panasonic will also develop a suit that can be used even in extreme environments, such as in space and deep sea.

Powered suits, which when worn produces strength that exceeds the limits of human strength, have been researched and developed in various organisations, including universities and private enterprises, however they have not yet been mass produced. Pansonic’s suit is equipped with an enlarged version of the lithium ion battery used in computers and smart phones, and moves via a motor. The operation of the suit’s arms, “grip” and “release”, is carried out through grips near the user’s hands.

The development of the suit was done by Activelink, a subsidiary of Panasonic that works on robotics. Activelink successfully made a test product that is capable of lifting objects weighing 100kg, moving at a maximum speed of 8km/h, about the speed of a gentle run for a human, going up a hill of a ten degree gradient.

Panasonic will establish a system of mass-production for the suits in 2014. As well as partnering with major companies to sell the suit, they are also reviewing rental operations through a leasing company.

The mass-produced suit has a narrowed range of functions, adapted to transport heavy objects of around 30kgs. The plan is for it to go on sale with the name “power-loader suit”. The suit can move for around 2 to 3 hours on one battery charge. The arms can be switched so that they don’t only grip, but can also do operations involving hammering with a hammer, and digging using a scoop.

The development of a suit that can be worn under a spacesuit or diving gear is also on the horizon. Each suit requires substantial strength to operate it freely, and in fact, at NASA, whether a power suit can be worn underneath a spacesuit is being investigated. The completed product will be supplied to public organisations and research facilities.