Spring 2020

Sarcos technology offers potential for baggage handlers

Delta Air Lines is working with the US company Sarcos Robotics as it investigates possible airport-related applications of the Guardian XO robotic exoskeleton

Guardian XO (the ‘XO’ derives from the ‘exo’ of exoskeleton) is a full-body, battery-powered exoskeleton that allows its wearer to handle heavy loads repeatedly without risk of strain or injury. In fact, the exoskeleton is able to lift weights of up to 200 pounds multiple times across a single eight-hour battery charge period.

The operator bears none of the exoskeleton’s weight, which passes directly into the floor through footplates underneath the operator’s feet. Likewise, the user doesn’t bear the weight of any load lifted by the exoskeleton. Guardian XO can be donned in under a minute and new operators require minimal training to use it.

Sarcos hopes that the Guardian XO will be available commercially before the end of this year, when it will be marketed on a Robotics-as-a-Service model. This will see customers charged for a fixed period of use of an XO, while Sarcos will be responsible for ensuring it is fully operational at all times.

Firth, though, an ‘Alpha’ phase of testing is to take place. And here, Delta is playing an important role, just as it has for the last couple of years.

Evolution

Kristi Martindale, Sarcos’ executive vice president, product strategy and chief customer officer, tells Airside more about the test phase and about the history of the Guardian XO. Sarcos has been developing robotic systems since the 1980s, she says, initially coming out of the University of Utah but since 2015 operating as an independent commercial enterprise.

Now employing about 130 staff, Sarcos is benefiting from the large amount of investment it has made in robotics technology over its history. Guardian XO’s origins can be traced to a similar exoskeleton that was developed as part of a US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)-funded programme launched in 2000, although that model was hydraulically powered.

Since then, reducing the power requirements of its exoskeletons has been the focus of much of Sarcos’ work. The Guardian XO uses just 400W during typical operations – a lot less than its predecessor – and can be powered by off-the-shelf batteries.

The exoskeleton can be hot-swapped at a worksite within seconds without loss of power to the unit. Moreover, the battery can be charged to 90% capacity in just an hour.

An advanced control system has also been developed to make operations within Guardian XO as easy as possible. Multiple sensors integrated into the exoskeleton feed a proprietary control system that Sarcos calls ‘Get-Out-of-the-Way’. This control system enables the exoskeleton to respond to its operators movements in milliseconds, so the operator can intuitively control the robot in a way that reflects their instincts and reflexes.

Following, or ‘mimicking’ the wearer’s movements, the exoskeleton thereby becomes an extension of the operator inside it, says Martindale.

Delta began working with Sarcos as part of the company’s X-TAG exoskeleton advisory group. X-TAG brings together 10 Fortune 500 companies across a variety of industries, including industrial manufacturing, utilities, construction and oil and gas, as well as aviation, which provide advice on their robotic needs.

Members of this group, including Delta, will now provide direct feedback on the Guardian XO’s performance as they live-test the unit at their own places of work as part of the Alpha testing phase.

Delta is investigating potential applications for the exoskeleton, such as cargo handling, maintenance operations and possibly baggage handling. It will trial the system for perhaps a month, Martindale reveals, although the airline has not revealed where this testing will take place.

If all goes well, Sarcos hopes to be selling Guardian XO to customers before the end of this year.

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