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Cheap Exoskeleton Brings Iron Man to Life, in the Arm at Least [Science]

Iron Man (2008) Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) with Exoskeleton Arm

Move over Tony Stark. Students at the University of Pennsylvania have won a prize for developing an inexpensive, powered, upper body exoskeleton.

A super-strong exoskeleton has been the dream of science fiction for decades. From the "Turbo-loader" in Aliens to Iron Man's exo-suit men have dreamed of wearing a suit that amplifies their strength.

The James Dyson award is an annual international competition for university-level engineering students that challenges them to "design something that solves a problem." The award granted the student team £30,000 ($49,157.93) and £10,000 ($16,384.44) to the university department for further development and research. They also get a shiny trophy. The runners-up were for a cheap prosthetic hand called "Handie," and a 3-D-printed plastic cast system called "Cortex."

Sure, exoskeletons exist right now. But most exoskeletons today are wildly expensive and cost more than $100,000. This team created "Titan Arm " for less than $2,000.  Another drawback current exoskeletons have is they're bulky and use heavy wires to transmit information. The Titan Arm is lightweight, streamlined and wireless. It also enhances the user's strength by 40 pounds. It's not much, but it's a huge boon for someone that's disabled.

The students developed the arm working closely with physicians to make an untethered, powered, upper body exoskeleton for use in with medical rehabilitation and therapeutic application. It can also be used in jobs where there's repetitive motion or heavy lifting. While the device currently augments the strength of the user by 40lbs, if the guy were Dwayne "the Rock" Johnson or Vin Diesel he could lift some impressive weights. Of course, all that muscle would look less impressive under the equipment.

You can watch a video talking about it here and dream of the future.

This could be a huge benefit in amputee therapy as well, which is a growing problem in places like West Africa where "rebels" regularly cut off hands and feet and money for prosthetics are limited. Even in this country exoskeletons aren't covered by health insurance.

The possibilities of the Titan Arm are endless. Imagine an episode of Iron Chef, where the chefs actually look like Iron Man. Not to mention arm-wrestling competitions would become a whole lot more interesting. Read more about the project at http://titanarm.com.

Via Discovery

What do you think of the Titan Arm? What would you do with an super-strong exoskeleton?

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  1. If it's something that's affordable, that would be a big plus.

  2. It'd be great if you could rent those from Home Depot for instance the next time I have to move.

  3. Wow. This kind of "cheaper" technology could really help those with certain muscular disabilities.

  4. Looks like some great product to own.

  5. Sounds like a fun project. If i tell my husband unit about it, he'll be out buying more parts to build more stuff.

  6. LOL it would be a worthwhile goal Mary.

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  7. Nice! I can't help but think of Matt Damon in 'Elysium'.

  8. All they need is to fuse it to the bone David!

  9. That's the best part about it Alex. Affordable health care.


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