Getting weaker as we grow older is a fact of life. Perhaps not for long.
European universities and technology companies are collaborating on a project to bring bionic suits into commercial production.
The idea is to allow the elderly to continue work, volunteer activities, and hobbies if they want to, project lead Shaoping Bai tells Inverse on the phone from Denmark.
“We think that this assistive [technology] could be helpful to make them feel much stronger to manage these activities and tasks.”
The AXO-SUIT is designed to help with some of the harder daily activities, like gardening or grocery shopping. The idea is that you might put it on for half an hour or an hour when you want to do something particularly strenuous, says Bai. It’s not designed for all-day wear.
There are lots of assistive devices available for older people, says Bai, but none provide what he calls “comprehensive enhancement,” where one device aids with general strength across various types of activities.
It should be as easy and intuitive as putting on clothes, he says. It will provide a low level of assistive power through electric motors so that it helps but does not overpower the user, like how an electric bicycle assists with pedaling.
The team is one year into a three-year project. They hope to have a working prototype ready in a year, and a commercial product in five years.
It won’t be cheap, at least at first. Manufacturing a prototype is expected to cost $20,000 euros, says Bai. But as the technology advances and manufacturers get on board, those costs should be slashed drastically. It’s hard to say at this point what the end cost to consumers will eventually be.
The team is currently looking for input from the elderly and people who work with them on the product design as they build a prototype. Want to be among the first to try to suit on? Visit AXO-SUIT website to get involved.