YouTuber and self-described “hacker for hire,” James Hobson, has built the next-step in his quest for a fully functioning exoskeleton: powered legs. His homebuilt piston-supported appendages were able to lift up the rear of a Mini-Cooper, which weighs more than 2,000lbs in total.
This is just the latest development in Hobson’s dream to recreate the early days of Tony Stark’s Iron Man suit. He’s previously developed an upper body curling suit, which allowed him to bicep curl as much as 270 pounds, which is far in excess of what most humans are capable of without help.
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The problem with that design, though, is that it was all attached to his upper body. Hobson’s actual skeleton still had to handle all that weight, which was fine for the relatively modest curl bar, but inadequate when he graduated from freeweights to lifting a small car. If he was going to progress, he needed a new design — and thus, his piston driven robotic legs were born.
These piston powered appendages are capable of lifting 800 pounds each, but as Hobson points out, they’re quite inelegant. What’s impressive about the build though is its use of locking joints to develop force and allow it to be maintained. Once in position, the skeleton can take hundreds of pounds of weight, without transferring any of it to the user (as per Hackaday).
This is really important, because as it stands, exoskeletons are held back by battery technology that limits their long-term use. What Hobson’s design could potentially lead to is a new generation of unpowered exoskeletons that not only provide support, but also on-demand strength for the user. It could let workers rest in strange positions without strain, or make carrying large objects easy once the initial lift was complete.
Theoretically, Hobson believes a system of gears and leverage could allow for augmented strength without a huge power pack. Currently though, his design is only possible because of the monstrous strength of those pistons. They’re entirely modular though, which suggests a future full exoskeleton design could be surprisingly versatile.