Delta Airlines develops robotic exoskeletons to help baggage handlers safely lift heavy loads

Technology |  2 min. read

Here’s a twist on the usual “robots in the workplace” story:  this time, the robots HELP human workers, instead of replacing them.

The workers are baggage handlers at Delta Airlines.  And the robots?  Strap-on “exoskeletons” that do the heavy lifting, literally, for the baggage handlers.

If you’ve wrestled your own suitcase off the carousel at baggage claim, or yanked it up out of the trunk at curbside, you know lifting a packed bag is hard work.  And what we do once or twice on a trip, baggage handlers do all day, every day.

So it is good news that Delta is working with Sarcos Robotics, on a “battery-powered full-body exoskeleton” for the thousands of Delta baggage handlers who work at airports across the globe.

With the exoskeleton on, a baggage handler can lift as much as 200 pounds, because this robot does the lifting (the baggage handler does the wearing).  Also good news, even though it can lift a heavy load, this wearable robot is quite light for the person wearing it.

The “secret sauce” in this case?  Well, there’s two of them:  first, thanks to its battery, the robot suit lifts its weight off the person wearing it.  And second, the robot suit uses modern composite materials to make it both ultra-light and ultra-strong.

Those composites, or mix of materials, normally include carbon fiber made from polyacrylonitrile, which is made from the petrochemical propylene. And the composite is held together with high-tech epoxy-BPA resin, which again relies on propylene for the epoxy functional group and phenol made from propylene and benzene for the BPA backbone.  Petrochemicals like propylene, of course, are made from natural gas and petroleum.

This isn’t full body armor, like Iron Man’s outfit. It’s more like a set of arms and legs with a robot backpack that you strap on.  It takes about 30 seconds to get it on or off, and you can wear it comfortably for an eight-hour shift.  With it, you really can pick up and carry 200 pounds, over and over and over with no pain and no strain.

And in a time where the news about robots is sometimes that they are going to take our jobs, this time it’s good news. These wearable robots are making it easier, and less painful, for humans to keep doing their jobs.

So go ahead.  Pack that extra pair of boots or that jacket just in case there’s a cold snap at Disneyland in August, or even that bowling ball.  Your Delta baggage handler, with a robot suit, will have your back, without hurting theirs.

Want to see a demo? Click here.


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