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Richmond Company Makes Exoskelton Vests To Aid Factory Workers

RICHMOND (KPIX 5) -- Robots may be replacing many factory workers, but a Bay Area company is working to make it possible for humans become "part robot" themselves.

While it may sound like a science fiction movie, Richmond-based company Ekso Bionics is making exoskeleton vests that factory and construction workers can wear to help them lift heavier objects.

KPIX 5 reporter Da Lin described wearing the vest to putting on an empty backpack that straps to your back and arms. Once it was on and working, he said, "I feel like my hands are floating."

The vest aids the wearer in lifting, adding up to 15 pounds of lifting force in each arm.

No electricity going through this device at all, it's all physics, explained Ekso Bionics User Experience Manager Claire Cunningham.

Ford has been testing out the Ekso vest for the last six months.

They provided video that shows their assembly line workers wearing the vest and doing overhead tasks.

They say workers lift their arms an average of 4,600 times a day. That's more than a million times a year.

Ford believes the vest will reduce injuries and increase productivity.

Ford workers at the end of the day were complaining to their wives about neck pain, back pain. So we saw this as a solution for that so they can have longevity, said Cunningham.

They started out with making medical products like an exo-skeleton to help parapalegics walk.

KPIX 5 did a story on the medical products a few years ago.

Now they're branching out to industrial products like this zero gravity arm.

Wearing the vest, its easy to lift a 34-pound piece of metal with just a finger.

I can do this up and down without putting any strain on my body, said Ekso Bionics Engineering Manager Nic Fleming. People are finishing their job two to three times faster.

Fleming says the vest is not designed to replace workers, but rather to help them do their jobs.

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