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Channel your inner Ripley with the new Guardian XO exosuit, for lease in 2021

By Jeff Spry
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After stomping into an array of Hollywood films like Aliens, Avatar, Elysium, Edge of Tomorrow and others, the age of the exoskeleton suit is finally upon us. Articulated machines that assist humans with numerous daily endeavors are hitting the marketplace with devices that seem like they've stepped straight off a sci-fi movie set. 

Sarcos Robotics, based in Salt Lake City, Utah, has been one of the pioneering entities for delivering 21st century exosuit products onto the market and they'll further advance their sterling reputation with a newly-acquired round of $40 million in funding aimed at launching their Guardian XO this year. 

This next-gen, full-body exoskeleton is the world's first battery-powered industrial robot that blends human intelligence, instinct, and judgment with the power, endurance, and precision of machines. The Guardian XO industrial exoskeleton augments operator strength without restricting their freedom of movement to enhance productivity while greatly reducing serious injuries, especially in dangerous or hazardous environments. 

Sarcos’ sculpted exoskeleton was designed for endeavors where automation isn’t feasible or prudent. While not specifically designed for battling angry alien queens or clashing with extraterrestrial invaders, these remarkable aids will be on the front lines of human achievement in medical, military, disaster relief, and engineering projects around the globe.

The slick robotic suit fortifies its operator's strength by a factor of up to 20 times with a maximum payload of 200 pounds, and can enable smoother lifting motion by dynamically compensating for gravity and inertia up to 100 pounds per arm, or 50 pounds per arm when lifting at full extension.

SYFY WIRE connected with Sarcos Robotics' Chief Product Officer and Chief Marketing Officer, Kristi Martindale, to learn more about the Guardian XO's incredible capabilities, how the business model has evolved in the last decade, their full-service lease plan, and what obstacles remain before their full-body exoskeleton steps into the marketplace.

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How do you see the exoskeleton industry emerging into the 21st century as technology allows for more complex interfacing machines?

Kristi Martindale: Significant technology improvements over the past several years have allowed for the development and commercialization of many types of exoskeleton technologies for a variety of different uses. The Sarcos Guardian® XO® exoskeleton, however, is the world’s first and only full-body, powered exoskeleton. It was developed over a period of 20+ years and utilizes more than 125 robot-integrated sensors to detect environmental conditions and the operator’s movement in milliseconds.  

Exoskeletons and other robotic technologies will also continue to evolve in complexity over the next several years with the implementation of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning technologies that will create smarter and more capable robots. 

Where does Guardian XO fit into the marketplace and what are its possible applications and arenas of operation?

The Guardian XO is a full-body, powered wearable robot that can lift up to 200 pounds and enhances human productivity while reducing the risk of injury when lifting and manipulating heavy items. The weight of the suit, as well as its payload, is transferred through the suit’s structure to the ground and results in offloading 100 percent of the weight the worker is bearing, as well as the weight of the suit itself. The operator can perform hours of physically demanding work in the suit, lifting and manipulating heavy items repetitively without causing strain or injury to his or her body. 

The Guardian XO was created to address the high cost of occupational injuries, particularly resulting from back strain, as well as the significant worker shortages that are expected in the U.S. and globally in the coming years. The Guardian XO has the potential to significantly optimize productivity and employee well-being, reduce the likelihood of injury, equalize the workforce by enabling more diversity in heavy-duty jobs and to potentially extend the longevity of workers’ careers.

The XO is suitable for any applications where lifting and manipulation of heavy and/or awkward items is a job requirement. Such industries include manufacturing of all types, construction, utilities, logistics, oil & gas, automotive, aviation, public safety and defense.

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As the general public knows exoskeletons like your Guardian XO mostly in sci-fi flicks like Aliens, Elysium, Avatar, and Edge of Tomorrow, how do your futuristic products compare?

It may even now seem like science fiction to bring a full-body, powered exoskeleton to life, but we are finally turning science fiction into reality. It is a brand new category of machines that nobody has ever really seen before outside of Hollywood. Hollywood has created a set of expectations around the category of product like ours that is unrealistic, but we are proud to have developed the world’s first force-multiplying, full-body, powered exoskeleton and to finally be bringing it to market next year. 

The Guardian XO was designed to give the operator superhuman strength, increase endurance and dramatically improve safety while doing so intuitively. The suit’s control system, called “Get-Out-of-the-Way” control, simplifies the operation of the suit by using a suite of sensors integrated into the exoskeleton that enable the operator to move naturally and the suit to follow in a fluid fashion. The patented controls allow intuitive operations and eliminate the need for extensive training. 

Can you tell us more about Sarcos' plans to offer Guardian XO via a subscription-based, multi-year “Robot-as-a-Service” plan?

The “Robot-as-a-Service” plan enables our customers to pay a monthly fee for what is essentially a full-service lease of the Guardian XO including maintenance, servicing and upgrades of the robot. This eliminates the need for companies to pay a big CapEx expense upfront to buy the machine outright, as well as eliminates the risk of it becoming outdated or obsolescent.

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What are some of the developmental challenges your team faces in deploying this next-gen exoskeleton?

It has been a 20+-year effort to bring the Guardian XO to market. During this time, there has been significant innovation in the areas of biomechanics, prosthetics, robotics and control systems, man-machine interfaces, end effectors, mechatronic subsystems and power management. All of these developments have led over time to the commercial viability of the Guardian XO. 

In the area of power management specifically, earlier versions of the Guardian XO were hydraulically powered, tethered and used 6,800 watts of power. This was not feasible from a commercialization perspective. The improvement of battery technology over the last several years has enabled Sarcos to commercialize a battery-powered exoskeleton that uses less than 400 watts of power and can operate nearly continuously with hot-swappable batteries. 

COVID-19 has also affected our development schedule this year as Alpha testing with our key partners and customers that had been scheduled for Spring 2020 had to be put on hold. We’ve incorporated their initial feedback into the first commercial version of the Guardian XO that will be released next year, and we will continue to make improvements in future generations.

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What's up next in Sarcos' blossoming line of robotic devices and where do opportunities lie for improvement?

Sarcos is currently focused on getting the Guardian XO into the market in 2021 as it is in the very final stages of development. As we move forward past commercialization next year, there will be opportunities for further evolution and enhancements of the XO in future generations of the product to meet the specific needs of our customers. We will also continue identifying areas of need across industries and develop new robotic technologies with the overall goal of augmenting human workers while decreasing the risk of injury or death. Sarcos will also continue to evolve it’s approach to integrating AI and machine learning across all our product lines as those technologies mature. 

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