Exoskeleton Technology Makes Humans Almost Super

Exoskeleton Technology Makes Humans Almost Super

In the 1960s a new, state-of-the-art automobile engine factory was built. As production settled in, new hires were shuttled through an introductory job. They were assigned the task of depalletizing engine blocks. Yes, 50-lb. to 75-lb. hunks of cast steel. Lifting from the pallet to the production line.

If you survived, you could move on to another department.

Technology ethically should be developed and deployed to make humans better. In this case a series of technologies from robots to ergonomic hand tools has made that plant—and all similar plants—much safer and humane.

One new technology to watch is exoskeletons. These are devices that will be a great help to humans performing tasks beyond human capability. Beyond manufacturing, think of the possibilities for assisting elderly or disabled people.

Here is a report from ABI Research detailing the latest on the market for these devices.

The Exoskeleton market continues to beat previous forecasts and will continue to attract outside attention from large-scale end-users, according to ABI Research, a market-foresight advisory firm providing strategic guidance on the most compelling transformative technologies.

Though a technology that has been talked about since the sixties, exoskeletons are now beginning to demonstrate their practical value with worldwide shipments expected to reach 91,000 by 2023 and 301,000 by 2028. Global revenue for the suits will increase to US$5.8 billion in 2028, according to ABI Research, a market-foresight advisory firm providing strategic guidance on the most compelling transformative technologies. Industry will be the largest single market for exoskeletons, with hardware revenue in this sector growing from US$104 million in 2018 to US$2.9 billion in 2028; a CAGR of 39.5%

In terms of market revenue, the distribution is tilted heavily towards industrial and commercial applications. The industrial market for exoskeletons (including manufacturing, construction, utilities etc.) is expected to reach revenues of almost US$3 billion by 2028, while by the same time, commercial use-cases (notably health and warehouse logistics) will be worth over US$2 billion.

“The market gets healthier with each passing month. The culmination of start-up activity, an increasingly permissive regulatory environment, improving drive and materials technology, and partnerships with larger corporations suggest the exo-market is in the best position it has been,” said Rian Whitton, Robotics Research Analyst at ABI Research. Companies such as Sarcos, German Bionic, and Indego (Parker Hannifin) are driving adoption across both the industrial and healthcare sectors.

Exoskeletons can be distinguished into two broad categories; those with active or powered suits with a power source, and passive suits that don’t help lift so much as help distribute weight and improve the user’s comfort. Of these two, powered suits are going to be the primary source of revenue for the wider industry going forward due to their lift capability and increased utility.

Lower-body exoskeletons- which have both applications in the Health and Industrial markets, are likely to be the most numerous systems as they have wide use-cases across differing markets. However, upper-body exoskeletons that help amplify human lifting performance and keeping heavy objects in place will be adopted at a faster pace in the industrial space. Already, companies like Ford are deploying upper-body powered devices from Ekso Bionics in their factories. Comau has teamed up with Ossur to build a passive upper-body exoskeleton for industrial use, while German medical giant Ottobock has leveraged its expertise in prosthetics to build passive industrial exoskeleton. German Bionic is offering a powered suit that provides lumbar support to workers in industrial and intralogistics environments and is building on the opportunities of Europe by targeting distributors in Japan- where the strategic drivers of exoskeleton demand, labor shortages, and aging workforces- are even more acute.

Full-body exoskeletons, particularly powered variants, are generally more expensive than their partial counterparts, yet their development holds the promise of more comprehensive solutions that significantly amplify human capability, both in terms of lifting heavy objects and preserving stamina in laborious occupations. Among the leaders in this field is Sarcos Robotics, who plan to launch to heavy-duty full-body suits next year under a service model. The technology is being anticipated by a wide range of vendors, including GM, Delta Airlines, Caterpillar, and construction giant Bechtel.

These findings are from ABI Research’s Robotic Exoskeletons Annual Update report. This report is part of the company’s Robotics, Automation & Intelligent Systems research service, which includes research, data, and Executive Foresights.

Eye Tracking For Industrial Safety Analysis

Eye Tracking For Industrial Safety Analysis

From in-store shopper research to evaluating the gaze of an expert pianist, thousands are using wearable eye trackers to accurately measure what people see as they move freely in a range of real-world settings.

However, the design of the eye trackers has excluded certain sports and sectors from using the technology to its full potential due to the restrictions caused by protective headwear.

That is, until now. Two new versions of Tobii Pro Glasses 2 have been developed to fit easily under helmets and safety accessories, allowing athletes, industrial workers and other professionals to participate in eye tracking research. By moving the processor box below the temple the Helmet edition facilitates the use of most safety equipment while the Integration edition can be purpose fitted to most headwear thanks to it’s reduced frame and movable processor box.

Expanding the benefits of eye tracking for sports research

As sports become increasingly more competitive, athletes need to stay ahead of the game. To do so, many coaches are opting to make cutting edge technologies like eye tracking an integral part of their evaluation and training programs.

The beauty of eye tracking is that it reveals methods and techniques which occur instinctively or too quickly to be observed. Basketball, golf, and tennis are just a few of the sports utilizing wearable eye trackers to compare the visual strategies of experts and novices in a bid to identify the best techniques and fine-tune strategies.

William Rahm, a goalie coach with the Swedish Hockey League, is using eye tracking glasses to train his goalies. According to him, one of the greatest challenges as a coach is being able to understand what a player sees on the ice. Being able to watch in real-time how a goalie tracks the puck with their eyes and scans the ice during a game will help him expedite training and translate subconscious actions into, teachable strategies.

The new editions of these wearable eye trackers open up increased possibilities for this growing area of eye tracking research in sports.

Design improvements are delivering increased research opportunities across a range of sports like cricket, American football, and baseball as headgear limitations are greatly reduced or removed.

Improving safety in the workplace with eye tracking

Changes to the physical specifications of wearable eye trackers is also increasing the applications of their use to improve workplace safety. By seeing operations through the eyes of workers, management can gain greater insight into inefficient processes, distractions and unsafe conditions.

This is an important area for all. The University of Nebraska used wearable eye trackers to investigate the nature of human error on construction sites and their underlying causes. Their findings, about the importance of situational awareness, yielded a reliable model for predicting human error and preventing subsequent injuries on construction sites. This model can be used by safety managers to identify at-risk workers and prevent potentially fatal situations, which is of particular relevance to those in the sectors like mining and manufacturing.

There’s an increased scope for eye tracking research which is accompanied by other measures of human behavior. Through its recent integration with Qualisys, a provider of motion capture technology, it’s possible to access combined real-time output of both eye tracking and motion data. This provides essential information needed to further improve sports performance, diagnose visual-motor disorders, and much more.

 

Cybersecurity Attack on an Industrial Safety System

Cybersecurity Attack on an Industrial Safety System

There was evidently a cybersecurity incident spotted yesterday. There was a report on FireEye quoted below. I also received this statement from CyberX. I am not primarily a cybersecurity writer, but this is significant.

“We have information that points to Saudi Arabia as the likely target of this attack, which would indicate Iran as the likely attacker. It’s widely believed that Iran was responsible for destructive attacks on Saudi Arabian IT networks in 2012 and more recently in 2017 with Shamoon, which destroyed ordinary PCs. This would definitely be an escalation of that threat because now we’re talking about critical infrastructure — but it’s also a logical next step for the adversary. Stuxnet and more recently Industroyer showed that modern industrial malware can be used to reprogram and manipulate critical devices such as industrial controllers, and TRITON appears to be simply an evolution of those approaches.” Phil Neray, VP of Industrial Cybersecurity for CyberX, a Boston-based industrial cybersecurity firm.

From the FireEye report (see complete analysis on its Website).

Mandiant recently responded to an incident at a critical infrastructure organization where an attacker deployed malware designed to manipulate industrial safety systems. The targeted systems provided emergency shutdown capability for industrial processes. We assess with moderate confidence that the attacker was developing the capability to cause physical damage and inadvertently shutdown operations. This malware, which we call TRITON, is an attack framework built to interact with Triconex Safety Instrumented System (SIS) controllers. We have not attributed the incident to a threat actor, though we believe the activity is consistent with a nation state preparing for an attack.

TRITON is one of a limited number of publicly identified malicious software families targeted at industrial control systems (ICS). It follows Stuxnet which was used against Iran in 2010 and Industroyer which we believe was deployed by Sandworm Team against Ukraine in 2016. TRITON is consistent with these attacks, in that it could prevent safety mechanisms from executing their intended function, resulting in a physical consequence.

The attacker gained remote access to an SIS engineering workstation and deployed the TRITON attack framework to reprogram the SIS controllers. During the incident, some SIS controllers entered a failed safe state, which automatically shutdown the industrial process and prompted the asset owner to initiate an investigation. The investigation found that the SIS controllers initiated a safe shutdown when application code between redundant processing units failed a validation check — resulting in an MP diagnostic failure message.

We assess with moderate confidence that the attacker inadvertently shutdown operations while developing the ability to cause physical damage for the following reasons:

Modifying the SIS could prevent it from functioning correctly, increasing the likelihood of a failure that would result in physical consequences.

TRITON was used to modify application memory on SIS controllers in the environment, which could have led to a failed validation check.

The failure occurred during the time period when TRITON was used.

It is not likely that existing or external conditions, in isolation, caused a fault during the time of the incident.

The TRITON attack tool was built with a number of features, including the ability to read and write programs, read and write individual functions and query the state of the SIS controller. However, only some of these capabilities were leveraged in the trilog.exe sample (e.g. the attacker did not leverage all of TRITON’s extensive reconnaissance capabilities).

The TRITON malware contained the capability to communicate with Triconex SIS controllers (e.g. send specific commands such as halt or read its memory content) and remotely reprogram them with an attacker-defined payload. The TRITON sample Mandiant analyzed added an attacker-provided program to the execution table of the Triconex controller. This sample left legitimate programs in place, expecting the controller to continue operating without a fault or exception. If the controller failed, TRITON would attempt to return it to a running state. If the controller did not recover within a defined time window, this sample would overwrite the malicious program with invalid data to cover its tracks.

Refinery of the Future with IoT

Refinery of the Future with IoT

An enterprise computing and IT infrastructure company user event seems a weird place for a discussion of the Internet of Things and the Refinery of the Future. But there I was moderating a bloggers’ Coffee Talk with Doug Smith, CEO, and Linda Salinas, plant manager, of Texmark Chemicals, along with an executive of Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) and one from PTC (ThingWorx).

HPE invited me to Madrid, Spain, (and paid my expenses) as an Operations Technology blogger to participate in Influencer sessions, interview a number of technologists, and experience its Discover Madrid user conference. Several times during each of the three days November 28-30 we participated in coffee talks. These were Live Streamed by Geekazine. This is a link to the first day. My session was toward the beginning of the first day, and I appear at the end of day three.

Telling the IoT Story

Texas toll manufacturer Texmark Chemicals teamed with HPE and Aruba to build a Refinery of the Future featuring advanced IIoT capabilities. The results: better process analytics, increased up-time, uninterrupted productivity, satisfied customers, and safer workers.

Every IoT implementation I have seen so far relied on predictive maintenance as the justifying application. Here, the first priority was safety. Then came predictive maintenance, improved operations, and consistent quality.

Texmark produces dicyclopentadiene (DCPD), a polymer precursor for everything from ink to boats. DCPD manufacturing processes involve flammable materials requiring stringent safety measures — and as demand increases, so does the complexity of the supply chains that rely on it.

Its manufacture involves heat and highly reactive chemicals, making safety a top priority. And as demand for DCPD grows, the global supply chain becomes increasingly complex, requiring ever more stringent controls, granular visibility, uninterrupted productivity, and regulatory oversight. Texmark must ensure its workers adhere to Process Safety Management (PSM) procedures at all times, and that its facility is managed in ways that put worker and community safety first.

As a contract manufacturer, Texmark must be prepared to adapt to customer requirements, which can change with little advance warning.

And it must continually drive plant efficiency and productivity. Historically, Texmark has depended on physical inspections of process equipment to ensure all systems remain in working order. However, these plant walk-downs can be time-consuming and labor-intensive. Texmark has 130 pumps in its plant, and spends nearly 1,000 hours a year on walk-downs and vibration analysis.

Depending solely on physical inspections also carries risk, because it relies on employees who — based on years of experience — can tell if a pump is starting to malfunction by recognizing slight variations in its noise and vibrations. But what happens if an employee with that skill is out sick, or reaches retirement age? Texmark needs ways to institutionalize that type of intelligence and insight.

Texmark’s vision for next-generation worker safety, production and asset management hinges on the emerging promise of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT): sensored devices combined with advanced analytics software to generate insights, automate its environment, and reduce the risk of human error.

The IIoT architecture must eliminate the need to transmit device data over a WAN, but instead support analytics at the edge to deliver real-time visibility into equipment and processes.

Texmark launched a multi-phase project to implement an end-to-end IIoT solution. Phase 1 and 2 established the digital foundation by enabling edge-to-core connectivity. Aruba deployed a secure wireless mesh network with Class 1 Div 1 access points and ClearPass for secure network access control. Aruba beacons provide location-based services for plant safety and security purposes. The wireless solution cost about half of what it would have cost to deploy a hardwired network.

For its edge analytics, Texmark selected the HPE Edgeline Converged IoT platform, an industrialized solution that supports robust compute capabilities. HPE Pointnext implemented the system as an HPE Micro Datacenter, which integrates its compute and networking technology within a single cabinet. HPE also upgraded Texmark’s plant control room to enable seamless edge-to-core connectivity and high-speed data capture and analytics, and to meet Texmark’s safety and security standards. The Edgeline system runs Texmark’s Distributed Control System software, integrating its operations technology and IT into a single system.

Phase 3 builds on the foundation established by these technology solutions to support Texmark’s use cases: predictive analytics, advanced video analytics, safety and security, connected worker, and full lifecycle asset management.

Texmark’s new IIoT solution will help make its workers even safer. It can monitor fluid levels, for example, reducing the risk of spills. It can alert Texmark immediately if a system starts to malfunction, enabling the company to respond before workers or production are endangered. And in the event of an emergency, it can help protect workers by ensuring Texmark knows their precise location and movements within the facility.

Other benefits will improve the company’s bottom line. Texmark can use data from IIoT sensors to identify which systems require hands-on evaluations, for example, so it can conduct physical inspections in a more focused and efficient manner.

The new IIoT solution makes it easier for the company to plan inspections and maintenance. To work on distillation columns, Texmark must often take systems offline and erect costly scaffolding. Improved maintenance planning will reduce these associated costs by at least 50%.

When Cybersecurity meets Safety–Podcast Conversation with Rockwell Automation

When Cybersecurity meets Safety–Podcast Conversation with Rockwell Automation

Cybersecurity and safety in an industrial environment complement each other.  People may think that these are separate disciplines, but such is definitely not the case.

That is the message we explore in this Gary on Manufacturing podcast featuring a conversation with two Rockwell Automation experts–Lee Lane, chief product security officer, and George Schuster, functional safety expert.

The first class I took from Rockwell on safety was most likely around 1995. Since that time, I’ve seen the growth of safety products and services grow steadily. During that time, I’ve featured Rockwell safety experts twice on these podcasts.

The first was Podcast 125 on the Safety Automation Builder software with OEM Technical Consultant Jonathan Johnson. We learn that the tool is part of trend of providing easy-to-use tools for engineers to help them improve design, get projects done faster and provide end-of-project documentation.

The second was Podcast 138 on the Safety Maturity Index a conversation with Rockwell’s Steve Ludwig, Safety Programs Manager, and Mark Eitzman, Safety Market Development Manager, who provide an update on acceptance of the SAB and discuss the Safety Maturity Index.

Here is Podcast 165–Safet and Security

Mobility, Augmented Reality, Application Suites–New Technologies Coming

Mobility, Augmented Reality, Application Suites–New Technologies Coming

Connections, services, augmented reality. Three technology directions and three companies that contacted me last month to point out some cool things going on, often beneath the radar. One of them just raised a bunch of VC money, though. I think you’ll be hearing more.

Now that I’m catching my breath from a couple of intense weeks with the ARC Forum and then the Industry of Things Conference, I have time to look at some new directions.

Knowledge Connected

Omnity uses the tagline Knowledge, connected. It accelerates the discovery of otherwise hidden, high-value patterns of interconnection within and between fields of knowledge as diverse as science, medicine, engineering, law and finance.

More than 2,500 scientific papers and 2,200 patent applications are published every day. Just the last five years of most scientific and engineering fields have produced on the scale of 100,000 documents. Reading these one an hour would take 50 years, a professional lifetime. Pair-wise comparison of these documents at three minutes per comparison would take more than 9,000 years, nearly the length of recorded human civilization. It is impossible to stay current in any field, much less the boundaries between two or more different fields, where most innovation occurs.

Omnity enables research and development professionals in all fields to rapidly and efficiently detect otherwise hidden patterns of relevant document interconnections. Whether for basic research or advanced product development, Omnity allows real-time insight into complex document sets, enabling research and development professionals to efficiently and systematically answer a wide range of questions. Read more here.

I heard about it on the podcast/radio show Tech Nation.

Augmenting Field of Vision

Safety Compass overlays information on your smartphone camera view, enhancing your field of vision. Warnings when and where you need it most—it is with you at work whenever and wherever you are, with coverage for the entire team. Simple, clear functionality with interactive hazard information suits any workplace size.

  1. Sign in and Select Your Site
  • Supervisors can add a site or specific area on site within minutes.
  • Adding hazard information is easy, simply follow the prompts to identify issues quickly.
  • Workers can then sign in with secure login details and select from any number of relevant worksites.
  1. Scan Your Location for Hazards Using Augmented Reality
  • The Safety Compass uses intuitive augmented reality to communicate hazard information to users in the field.
  • Using the phone’s GPS and accelerometers the app superimposes real time information onto the camera view that adapts and compensates for worker’s field of vision.
  1. View Hazards Site-Wide
  • By accessing the worker’s physical location, the app presents vital information on present dangers straight to the worker’s phone, avoiding the necessity of bulky safety manuals to locate and manage risk.
  • A worker’s position is shown in relation to hazards, and workers can zoom, tilt and pan across a detailed site map.
  1. Access In-Depth Safety Information
  • Workers receive critical site information well before they enter a hazardous area, allowing them time to prepare for safe work practices and overcoming the challenges of reading large volumes of complicated text in dark, shifting, loud or crowded environments.
  • Additional safety information including video content can be added for more detail.

Frameworks of Applications

MuleSoft Agility starts with an application network according to MuleSoft. Mobility, Cloud services, the Internet of Things are creating incredible opportunities for business — but they’re raising customers’ expectations. MuleSoft builds application networks: seamless frameworks of applications, data sources, and devices connected by APIs, whether on-premises or in the cloud. They speed up app launch and modification cycles, make it easier to secure and manage access, and ultimately enable companies to do more — and faster — with less.

Leverage the power of API-led connectivity for a complete connectivity solution for digital business. Connect and orchestrate data on IoT devices, across devices, or with back-end applications. Leverage open standards and developer-friendly tools for speed and productivity. Connect to devices using out-of-the-box transport protocols like Zigbee and MQTT. Adapt Anypoint Platform to fit IoT architecture, not the other way around. Achieve full flexibility with a hybrid architecture and extensibility to connect future technologies.

MuleSoft recently received a large investment. Look for more from it.

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