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From hybrid IT to hybrid humanity, is edge destined to support mankind?

By Justin Simonds, Master Technologist



JS Apr 21

There was a TV show in the early to mid-seventies called The Six Million Dollar Man, about a former astronaut, USAF Colonel Steve Austin. After a NASA test flight accident, Austin is rebuilt with superhuman strength, speed, and vision due to bionic implants.  Those that may remember the program know that Steve got a pair of bionic legs a bionic right arm and bionic left eye.  The series ran from 1974 to 1978.  So, coming up on 50 years ago (in a few years);  it just doesn’t seem like so long ago when this was nothing more than the realm of fantasy.

If you jump to you can read a story about current technology.  Although they use Ironman as the superhero, it felt more Steve Austin-ish to me reading it.  Whether you choose Ironman, the six-million dollar man or your own superhero, I’m sure you’ll agree the technology is impressive, and at $45,000 a suit a steal compared with Steve Austin or Ironman’s price tag.

If you follow the technology trends you know that hybrid is all the rage.  If you watched the Masters Golf tournament you know that every IBM commercial that came on discussed hybrid.  There’s hybrid architecture, hybrid cloud, hybrid artificial intelligence and now hybrid human beings.  Arrayed in one of these exoskeleton suits a human can work longer, lift more and apply greater pressure without the normal fatigue that would set in without the suit.  Although the article discusses ROI in manufacturing and agriculture, two labor intensive fields there are many more markets that could benefit from this transition to being hybrid.

When I read the article my mind immediately went to physical therapy and how suits such as these could provide mobility to many.  I’ve had many friends who have had knee replacements and there is a long period of physical therapy to get back strength and mobility.  A suit such as this could provide regular movement almost immediately and gradually lower support as the knee healed.  Further it could ensure range of motion stretching was performed during recuperation.  I’m sure many other corrective surgeries combined with this technology would allow a fairly normal existence during the healing process while guaranteeing doctor recommended therapy was indeed performed.

I can envision this as a wonderful aid for grandparents who might be getting to an age of concern over trips with their grandchildren – say long hikes or the dreaded amusement parks.  By taking some of the strain off their knees, hips and muscles might they not be able to enjoy a full day with their grandchildren? In daily life everything could become a little less stressful such as carrying in the groceries, opening a jar of pickles, walking the dog and doing the laundry.  As sensors get better perhaps they only kick in when needed and only as much as needed.

Another use case for me would be first responders.  Firefighting can be quite strenuous and perhaps support of an exoskeleton could allow them faster response and more endurance?  Could such a device replace the ‘jaws of life’ used to get into a car where the door cannot be opened?  Additionally could the suits intercommunicate like we are starting to see with vehicles?  Firefighters might be able to find other firefighters even in a smoke filled building by exoskeletal communication.  In fact by equipping these suits with the same technology used in autonomous driving a firefighter’s face mask could display the room clearly without the smoke.  In a dramatic case could the exoskeleton walk out of a building on its own if it determined the fire fighter lost consciousness or was somehow compromised?

For these types of activity we see a combination of IoT, AI and 5G capabilities.  It is certainly a peek into a not too distant future where we can all be Ironman (or woman, of course J ).