The 2016 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas had an exoskeleton demonstration that captivated reporters’ attention. It was the R70i Aging Experience by Genworth Financial. The CES is one of the biggest technology trade shows for the year with over 3200 companies in attendance. It is fantastic that an exoskeleton managed to make the headlines, even if it was not a conventional one. The R70i exoskeleton is a resistive device, which is not designed to help people but hinder them.
The R70i Aging Experience exoskeleton is controlled remotely and it simulates body weakness from natural aging or disorders such as arthritis. The R70i exoskeleton is a classical, full body, rigid framed wearable robot with servo motors. It is not an assistive device but instead a hindering one. The hip, knee, elbow and shoulder connections are ball socket joints with servo motors locking against them when powered-up. Depending on how the servos are activated, they can limit the motion of the body simulating reduction in motion range. The suit can also increase resistance imitating muscle weakness and most interesting of all, suddenly lock up which will prevent the user from completing their motion putting them off balance.
This exoskeleton device was initially introduced in June 2015 but at that time it didn’t get nearly as much attention as it did at the CES 2016. The R70i has now been covered by The Verge, CNET, Engadget, Digital Trends and others, but it was the Wall Street Journal video that had the most concise video report (see: This Exoskeleton Makes You Feel 40 Years Older, YouTube).
Three Attributes Make The R70i Special:
First, the R70i Exoskeleton is only a part of the Aging Experience. The wearable robot is paired up with headsets, a microphone and a virtual reality set that simulates hearing impairment and various vision disorders. This is part of a growing trend in which the exoskeleton device is not the full product, but is integrated into a package with other technologies. This has been seen earlier with the Revision Military Kinetic Operations Suit where an adapted KEEGO exoskeleton was integrated with Revision Military’s helmet and armor products into one complete package. Having exoskeletons be only a part of a solution or bundle will most likely continue to emerge as a trend in the coming years. The engineers at Genworth have done a wonderful job of merging all of the electronic devices into one coherent product.
Second, skeptics of the exoskeleton industry regularly claim that exosuits and the like will always be heavy, uncomfortable, and increase the net metabolic cost of using them. Almost comically, the R70i exoskeleton strives to do all of these things. The suit designers have leveraged all of the shortcomings of the classical rigid exoskeleton and have made an educational simulator out of them.
Third, what is a financial company doing making a resistive exoskeleton? Genworth Financials sells, amongst other things, long-term care insurance (see wikipedia). This is insurance that goes beyond government programs such as Social Security and provides funds for people who are not acutely sick but can’t perform day-to-day activities. The R70i Exoskeleton Aging Experience is an educational tool that lets healthy people experience how they would feel if they were older and burdened with one or more disorders. Most likely, Genworth Financials had a lot more customers sign up for long-term care insurance once they tried the aging simulator.
Currently, Genworth Financials have no official plans for making an assistive exoskeleton though the curators of the R70i Aging Experience have flirted with the idea in the past.
For more information, visit the Genworth Website.