American company Ekso Bionics, founded by Homayoon Kazerooni, Russ Angold and Nathan Harding, makes this first suit in our list. All the founders were members of the Berkeley Robotics and Human Engineering Laboratory at the University of California, the same laboratory that helped to make someone walk again in the aforementioned section of Richard Hammond’s Miracles of Nature. The Ekso, also known as eLEGS (Exoskeleton Lower Extremity Gait System), is designed to be a portable exoskeleton which can help paraplegics stand and walk. Although it weighs over 20kg, the user should feel none of that weight, as the Ekso structure ensures that the weight is transferred directly to the ground. Anyone between 5 ft 2” and 6 ft 2” weighing less than 100 kg can wear the suit, and experienced users should be able to take it on and off in less than 5 minutes. The on-board lithium batteries should be able to drive the motors for 6 hours, and allow walking speeds of around 1 mph. The suit is currently undergoing clinical trials, although Ekso plan to launch a personal version in early 2014. The costs are high though, with initial estimates placing the suit at well over £50000. More information on the Ekso can be found here.
We return to America for the final exoskeleton in our list, the Raytheon Sarcos XOS 2. Raytheon is the sixth largest military contractor in the world and, unsurprisingly, the XOS 2 has been developed for use by the US army. This 95kg steel and aluminium suit allows its operator to lift up to 17 times the weight they would have otherwise been capable of, whilst still maintaining relatively high ease of movement and agility. There is a catch though. Unlike its lithium battery powered counterparts, the XOS 2 uses hydraulics, and as such needs to be tethered to a hydraulic fluid supply permanently. A hydraulic fluid backpack is being developed by Raytheon though, and is expected to be operational by 2020, with the tethered version hoping to be entered into service by 2015. In the meantime, watch a video of the XOS 2 in action here, or visit Raytheon’s website.