Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Who else wants an exoskeleton?

Remember the climactic scene in Aliens?

Sigourney Weaver as the venerable Ripley climbs into a robotic exoskeleton and uses it as a weapon to defend little Newt from the queen alien?  Who can forget Weaver's now-classic cry of "Get away from her, you bitch"?

Well, engineers at an Italian firm have created an exoskeleton or "wearable robotics" that is something like that.  Perceptual Robotics Laboratory announced that its creation tracks the movements of its wearer while augmenting that person's strength, allowing them to lift up to 110 pounds in each hand.

Yeah, I know.  As you can see from the comments at the bottom of that link, many will point out that lifting 200 pounds is actually a modest accomplishment for most gym rats.  In that context, there are two points to take away from this working exoskeleton.  First, this is one of such "wearable robotics" being developed in the world and it is a technology that will only continue to advance.  As it does, the user will be able to lift greater and greater amounts.  Second, the difference between lifting with the exoskeleton and "pumping iron" is...let's face it...the degree of effort involved.  Less effort means less fatigue and that counts for something in the end.

The future uses that have been floated about for such an exoskeleton would include factory work.  In the video at the io9 link, one of the lead engineers on the project discusses how the assembly of large machinery such as aircraft could be expedited by these suits.  It would also make rescue work, such as clearing debris away after an earthquake, much easier.

Okay, we'll all be honest here.  The military is looking at this stuff and salivating like my dog staring at a stick of pepperoni.  Technological advancements, no matter how seemingly benign, can often be taken and made into weapons.  At the very least, the more evil or distressed among us can find new applications for common instruments.  We found that out the hard way with airliners a little over ten years ago.  As Einstein said, "Science is a powerful instrument. How it is used, whether it is a blessing or a curse to mankind, depends on mankind and not on the instrument. A knife is useful, but it can also kill." It's pretty much all up to us.

So consider my previous post on cloned woolly mammoths in Siberia.  In light of that, it's not hard to see what Vladimir Putin is going to do when he gets his expantionist hands on one of these suits.  That's right.  Weaponized woolly mammoths.  Just think about them marching over the frozen Bering Straight, headed straight for us.

I for one welcome our new robotic mammoth overlords.

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