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Ford tests exoskeleton to ease strain on factory workers

Companies are starting to propose functioning exoskeletons for real applications, from soldier support to helping paraplegic patients walk. But they could also be customized to help everyday workers with their harder tasks, as Lowe’s lift-easing prototype demonstrated. Ford is taking a different tack by investing in the EksoVest, a new exoskeleton that supports factory employees’ upper bodies to ease strain when lifting and performing overhead tasks.

Certain Ford employees do these tasks up to 4,600 times per day and up to a million times per year, the automaker noted in a press release. The non-powered EksoVest, designed by Ekso Bionics in partnership with Ford, helps lift five to fifteen pounds, easing the strain on users’ upper bodies and preventing some fatigue. That assistance could help prevent workplace accidents resulting from tired muscles and minds. The EksoVest fits employees from 5-feet to 6-feet 4-inches tall and is designed for anyone in load-bearing work, from factories to construction sites to distribution centers.

“Collaboratively working with Ford enabled us to test and refine early prototypes of the EksoVest based on insights directly from their production line workers,” said Russ Angold, co-founder and chief technology officer of Ekso Bionics, in Ford’s press release. “The end result is a wearable tool that reduces the strain on a worker’s body, reducing the likelihood of injury, and helping them feel better at the end of the day – increasing both productivity and morale.”

Ford is currently testing the EksoVest in two US factories with plans to expand the pilot program to European and South American sites. The United Automobile Workers lent their support to the concept.

Via: CNET

Source: Ford

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Existing EV batteries could be recharged five times faster

Lithium-ion batteries have massively improved in the last half-decade, but there are still issues. The biggest, especially for EVs, is that charging takes too long to make them as useful as regular cars for highway driving. Researchers from the University of Warwick (WMG) have discovered that we may not need to be so patient, though. They developed a new type of sensor that measures internal battery temperatures and discovered that we can probably recharge them up to five times quicker without overheating problems.

Overcharging a lithium-ion battery anode can lead to lithium buildup, which can break through a battery's separator, create a short-circuit and cause catastrophic failure. That can cause the electrolyte to emit gases and literally blow up the battery, so manufacturers impose strict charging power limits to prevent it.

Those limits are based on hard-to-measure internal temperatures, however, which is where the WMG probe comes in. It's a fiber optic sensor, protected by a chemical layer that can be directly inserted into a lithium-ion cell to give highly precise thermal measurements without affecting its performance.

The team tested the sensor on standard 18650 li-ion cells, used in Tesla's Model S and X, among other EVs. They discovered that they can be charged five times faster than previously thought without damage. Such speeds would reduce battery life, but if used judiciously, the impact would be minimized, said lead researcher Dr. Tazdin Amietszajew.

Faster charging as always comes at the expense of overall battery life but many consumers would welcome the ability to charge a vehicle battery quickly when short journey times are required and then to switch to standard charge periods at other times.

There's still some work to do. While the research showed the li-ion cells can support higher temperatures, EVs and charging systems would have to have "precisely tuned profiles/limits" to prevent problems. It's also not clear how battery makers would install the sensors in the cells.

Nevertheless, it shows a lot of promise for much faster charging speeds in the near future. Even if battery capacities stayed the same, charging in 5 minutes instead of 25 could flip a lot of drivers over to the green side.

Via: Clean Technica

Source: University of Warwick

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