Why I think exoskeletons are so fascinating?

Why do we think exoskeletons are sci-fi? Is it because we always see them performing superhuman acts or worn by an alien race… probably. However, from my personal experience of working in the industry, exoskeletons are on our door step and available. They just might not look like you think or accomplish tasks you’d expect.

To understand how I got into the exoskeleton industry, I’ll take you back to when the first Iron man movie came out. I won’t be the first or last to mention the ‘greatest superhero of them all’, however from making model kits of the MK2 suit to designing exoskeletons for Mechatech Ltd, I’ve taken my comic book passion and turned it into a reality.

While studying mechanical engineering at University of Leeds I decided to take a year in industry and secured a job as an applications engineer at SolidSolutions Ltd, and learnt how to design using 3D CAD software, SolidWorks, to a high level. I used to spend my spare time designing a concept exoskeleton that could move through articulation and be assembled in the virtual prototyping software. Even showing it off to my manager when I used a new tool in the software to generate a new part or feature. When I went back to university to finish off my degree, out of 30+ options for dissertation projects, I noticed a project for exoskeleton design. To my mum’s disbelief after applying, I had managed to get accepted for this project and spent a year designing an enhancive exoskeleton in cooperation with 3 PhD students at the university. Here I started to learn biomechanics of the human body and gait analysis knowledge.

This 3rd year project had been sponsored by Mechatech Ltd, which led me to meet Robert Bloomfield for the first time. After 1 year of prototype designing and passing my undergraduate degree, I went on to finish my Master of Engineering 4th year. However, this time with the help of the university and Mechatech Ltd, I secured another exoskeleton project with Mechatech Ltd as the sponsor. This time the exoskeleton was designed to be a full body assistive exoskeleton, capable of holding a paraplegic user. Working with 3 other engineers to design and test this exoskeleton, bringing together mechanical design, bio-mechanical design and electronics integration. This worked nicely in conjunction with my other modules which involved medical engineering design and robotic device design.

After completed my MEng degree, I was offered a job at Mechatech Ltd to be part of the mechanical engineering team. I got the position of lead frame designer, using 3D CAD software to prototype and manufacture components for the research and development of exoskeletons at Mechatech Ltd. I've spent 15 months 3D printing prototypes, assembling machined components and testing our exoskeleton frames.

Much research I've undertaken has been turned into concept and prototype, with each stage an iteration and improvement on the last. As a young engineer I would highly recommend using your passion and thinking about the industries behind it. Whether you like cycling to music, engineers will have designed and tested the material choices, the shape and the quality of the product that you use.

It's amazing to find a job which is at the forefront of technology and is also a passion for myself. However, trying to describe my job to anyone without a knowledge of exoskeletons is always a challenge.

It's amazing to find a job which is at the forefront of technology and is also a passion for myself. However, trying to describe my job to anyone without a knowledge of exoskeletons is always a challenge.

Developing our new prototype is the focus at the moment, and securing protection for our design with 3 potential patents. My designs often come to me in locations or times i'm not expecting. I'm a visual worker and the first thing i do, is always draw out my concept idea. the more you try to get your idea out of your head and onto paper, the more detail you have to produce and identify the good or bad points about the idea. Part of the way Mechatech Ltd works is through strong team work, with everyone bringing ideas to the table and critically thinking about the functionality. Our exoskeletons aren't just one big piece of clever engineering and new design, they are an accumulation of lots of little ideas and brainstorms.

Exoskeletons are becoming everyday technology, with investment in many sectors such as health care and manufacturing. Each exoskeleton varies in its size, weight and look, all depending on applications. Many industrial exoskeletons aren't enormous robotic suit that can lift a car with one arm, instead using a passively sprung structure specifically formulated to help a user lift their own limbs to fight the fatigue effect of holding limbs up above their heads. Some exoskeletons are designed to help people walk again, using a series of strong actuators to guide their legs through a standard gait cycle. This can be science fiction for a user who can't walk again, and one of the main reasons why I'm passionate about my job. As Mechatech Ltd, we have research into a wide array of applications and industries, of which our first product will be showcased soon.

It will not take long for exoskeletons to become part of all our lives, that is why one of the main goals for Mechatech Ltd is to make exoskeletons accessible for everyone.

Learn more about the research Mechatech Ltd is undertaking here

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