What is the exoskeleton perception in the real world? In a time where perception can be more powerful than reality, it is important for all exoskeleton developers to know how the public really views their creations. This is a complicated question that can’t be answered without thorough research, but below is a single data point.
The Futurism Facebook page highlighted a compilation video of the industrial exoskeletons by suitX: legX, backX, and shoulderX. By May 4th, 2017, the video had made it to the screen of Facebook users nearly 300,000 times with 3,727 shares and 350 comments. In comparison, the same video earned only 2,858 views on the Futurism YouTube account (link).
The Facebook video version receiving 350 comments might not seem like a big deal, but it makes it one of the most commented on non-military exoskeleton features in the last 12 months. How did people receive the suitX industrial exoskeletons and what are some assumptions that we have to cover before looking at the data?
- Assumption: people on the internet tend to be more negative than in face to face conversations.
- Assumption: since the video was featured on Futurism, most of the people who saw it are technologically inclined.
- Assumption: many posts are sarcastic and should not be taken at face value “this is great” could just as easily mean the opposite.
- Assumption: a large portion of the people commenting did not watch the entire video.
The analysis was performed on the visible comments and first level replies. Repeating comments by the same user were filtered out when caught. Comments were pre-filtered by Facebook to include only ones that appear to be relatively on topic. Comments that were completely off-topic but made it through the Facebook filter were also excluded.
Positive Tone of Voice: 40
Negative Tone of Voice: 69
Neutral Tone of Voice: 166
*Neutral comments are all loosely off-topic or containing an equal mix of positive and negative sentiments
The various comments were then grouped together into matching themes:
Felt industrial exoskeletons can reduce damage to workers’ bodies: 13
Explicitly expressed that research in the technology was justifiable: 7
Worried industrial exoskeletons will make people frail and weak: 28
Felt the device was useless/missing components: 11
Expressed that money would be better spent on going to the gym: 10
Felt exoskeletons bring robotic replacement closer to reality: 10
Skeptical managers and companies will buy exos for their workers: 10
“Why bother when drones & robots will replace workers soon:” 6
Worried about the device failing and causing injury: 3
Felt it will improve productivity but cost more people their jobs: 1
Felt companies will ask for more from workers with exoskeletons: 1
Commented that the suitX products reminded them of a Sci-Fi exoskeleton: 25
Felt tech can/should be applied for medical applications instead: 12
Thought industrial exoskeletons are for superhuman strength: 9
Lamented that millennials are not entering construction: 2
Felt should be applied to emergency responders: 1
Due to the small sample size, even comments that were featured only once can be important and can’t be disregarded. Here are some of the public opinions that were quite shocking:
Thirteen commenters understood the purpose of the suitX industrial exoskeletons, to decrease bodily injury to laborers over the long run. This is more people than we would have expected. This is contrasted, however, with the usual skepticism and nearly as many people (10) saying they don’t think their manager or company will ever buy these devices for their workers.
Another shocker was that 1o commenters felt exoskeleton technology is bringing robotic replacement closer to reality. Some felt that sensor data from exoskeletons would be used to program the industrial robots of the future, others thought they were losing their humanity and becoming robotized. Note that this is a valid concern for some wearable tech, like gloves that monitor the hand movements of factory workers and beep and uploaded the data when the glove things the correct motion isn’t being followed. This might sound appealing to a floor manager, but could be a nightmare to an employee. The exoskeleton industry has to be careful in crafting a narrative that it is here to enable workers to be safe and competitive, not enveloped in a cocoon of iron and dehumanized.
Perception can be as strong if not stronger than reality. This is just one single data point on one single social media post but the industry needs to start analyzing the data of exoskeleton perception by the public.
Link to Facebook Futurism page: