Exoskeletons are mechanical devices that support workers with uniform movements. Mechanics and robotics are used in the exoskeletons to reduce the strain on muscles and bones, when working overhead or lifting loads, for example. Many companies hope this will help counteract the high rates of sick leave caused by musculoskeletal disorders. Three different exoskeletons are currently being used at Volkswagen’s plant in Bratislava . German medical technology manufacturer Ottobock is supplying the exoskeleton Paexo for overhead work. It is worn like a backpack and transfers the weight of the raised arms to the hip with the help of mechanical cable pull technology. A model called ‘Noonee’ is used for squatting work, while a portable robot called ‘Laevo’ supports the lifting of loads.
Such wearable robotics are also being used by other car manufacturers such as Audi, BMW, and Ford. Care facilities are already experimenting with similar systems, as are logistics companies, including Deutsche Post. However, experts like sports physician Benjamin Steinhilber from the University of Tübingen remain skeptical. The Technology Review from Heise quotes him as saying that nobody knows exactly what the disadvantages of the continuous use of such aids will be. The weight of the systems themselves could give rise to new strains on the body.