“Robot.” What comes to mind? An R2-D2-type character? Something encased in metal that traverses the terrain in a clearly non-human way? Maybe you picture a sci-fi movie depicting an AI character so smart that it overthrows the human characters in a dramatic coup. Time to rethink that picture in your head and replace it with a human that’s supported by robotic devices, but still very much a human—and in control.
For years, there’s been talk of robots that could “think” and could be programmed to perform tasks ordinarily done by humans. This caused concerns about replacing wage-earners with machines, essentially, and drastically reducing the opportunities – and clout – that working people needed. While robotic operations have increased, we’ve learned a few things about what robots can and can’t do well, and we now know that there simply are some things that humans do better.
No surprise there, right? Hmmm … now what? Soft robotics and exoskeletons, made with textile products, and designed to support humans working at demanding tasks, recovering from serious injuries or facing long-term physical challenges, that’s what.
Some amazing research is underway that is blazing a new trail for textile use in robotic technology. Our feature by Marie O’Mahony, “Rethinking robotics,” describes some of the most recent accomplishments in this fascinating area of the industry.
But these new developments aren’t just cool ideas; they’re functioning products addressing real-world needs: using exoskeletons to help soldiers carry heavy loads, mimicking human skin to improve prosthetics, and supporting worker safety in industrial environments with wearable robotics, for example.
The approach, involving “digital collaboration platforms” recognizes the potential to use smart fabrics and other wearable technologies to augment human performance, but with decision-making firmly in the hands of the human side of the partnership.
Janet Preus is senior editor of Advanced Textiles Source. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.