The benefits of robotic exoskeleton technology are easy to imagine. Increased strength and endurance, the ability to carry heavier armor plating for protection, and as Ripley pointed out in the sci-fi classic “Aliens,” there’s no better way to take on extraterrestrial hive queens. The Department of Defense has been investing money into the TALOS “Iron Man” suit since 2013, but thus far, there’s no indication that the technology has matured enough to see any reasonable use in a combat environment any time soon.
Of course, that doesn’t mean there are no less than reasonable uses for exo-suit technology available today.
Enter the Skeletonics line of exoskeletons, purpose-built for the type of guy that wants to look the part of an alien hunting space marine, despite not actually being able to do most of the things you might expect at first glance. Think of it as the robotic equivalent of an Airsoft gun: the Skeletonics exo-suits look and feel like an intimidating piece of combat hardware… but would never work in a real fight.
The suit is entirely analog, meaning it doesn’t actually provide the wearer with any increase in strength or capability. Nonetheless, the Skeletonics suits do represent some impressive engineering. At around 88 pounds, these platforms are designed to be moved and powered by the human body — and they manage to do so with an impressive degree of specificity.
“I’m frequently told that it looks fantastic, but then have to explain that it doesn’t really do anything, which ends up confusing a lot of people,” creator Reyes Tatsuru Shiroku told The Japan Times. “We didn’t think about creating anything useful. That’s probably why we were able to develop a unique thing.”
What the Skeletonics suits offer, if not any practicality, could best be compared to a marionette controlled by the wearer, or maybe as an expensive bit of cosplay. How expensive? Very. If you want to burn your own calories moving one of these nine-foot-tall robo-monsters around your high school reunion, it’ll run you a cool $93,000.
And you’ll have to pay extra to hire the cosplay models Skeletonics often uses to make their contraption (and its user) look cool in pictures.
Sarcasm aside, the Skeletonics suit may not represent the future of exoskeleton technology, but it does serve as a strong indicator of where commercial technology will likely be heading in the decades to come. Other firms, like South Korea’s Hankook Mirae Technology, recently unveiled the Method 2 — a 13-foot tall fully functional bipedal robot designed to carry a human pilot in its body. Megabots recently broadcast the first ever battle between fully functional 12-ton manned robots as well… though the show proved them to be clumsy, slow-paced and disappointing. Limited as the technology may be for now, there’s no denying the trend: exoskeleton technology is advancing, and there’s a chance we’ll see it in the private sector before the military can begin fielding their own.
While it may seem silly to spend the same on a non-robotic robot suit as many who live in rural areas spend on their homes, chances are good that Skeletonics will find buyers — just as Megabots found an audience and the Method 2 will likely one day make it onto construction sites. The fact of the matter is, these silly looking, sometimes stumbling first steps are often exactly what the technology of tomorrow looks like before it reaches maturity.
You never know, the future of warfighting could look something like this:
Feature image courtesy of Skeletonics