Robotic exoskeleton "Guardian XO" purchased by U.S. Navy

The U.S. Navy has partnered with a robotics company to augment the physical capabilities of workers at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, a maintenance facility located in Washington state. Sarcos Robotics has been granted a contract by the United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) to deliver a pre-production version of its "Guardian XO" robotic exoskeleton, which can be "worn" by people to better their abilities by providing attributes such as enhanced strength.

Sarcos describes its full-body exoskeleton as being able to give wearers the ability to lift objects with the strength of a forklift while maintaining the dexterity of human hands. Someone operating the suit can reportedly handle as much as 200 pounds for long periods of time while still being able to use power tools and inspect confined spaces. The machine can move at three miles per hour and operates on batteries, which is one of its key selling points.

While similar devices have been built-in the past, Sarcos notes that they have typically been tethered to a power source given the lack of availability for batteries that capable of supplying enough power for such a machine. Early prototypes of the Guardian XO itself relied on hydraulic power and consumed 6,000 watts.

Conversely, with recent advancements in battery development and the decade of engineering that has gone into improving the Guardian XO's actuators, sensors and computers, the entire suit can operate on less than 400 watts. The battery lasts up to eight hours and while the main battery pack is onboard, rechargeable packs can be hot-swapped on the go for additional hours of operation.

Sarcos is aiming to offer a commercial product by early 2020 and this is the second U.S. military contract it has received. The company has previously been granted contracts from the U.S. Air Force, including one in 2017 for a less capable version of the exoskeleton that could lift 80 pounds, and another contract last August for the updated model that can lift 200 pounds.

The company notes that while people commonly expect robotics to replace the labor of mankind with the ongoing advent of machine intelligence, there are plenty of use cases for robotics that can boost the abilities of people to perform on job sites.

"This partnership provides an exciting opportunity for the shipyard to develop innovative solutions to improve our work while providing a safer, more ergonomic work environment for our employees," said Capt. Howard Markle, commander of PSNS & IMF. PSNS & IMF employs more than 14,000 sailors and civilian personnel who accomplish the Command's mission to maintain, modernize and retire the U.S. Navy's fleet.