Is an exo suit in your future?  |  opinion

“You load 16 tons and what do you get? Disability payments and no Corvette. ”- with apologies to Tennessee Ernie Ford.

I worked in an often understaffed warehouse for 18 years (once I got quite emotional when I heard Sam Cooke sing on the radio, “That’s the sound of the men working on the ga-a-ang chain …”), so was my interest interest stimulated by a new development in the life of workers.

At least one grocery chain is expanding its use of exosuits – wearable robotic technology that workers buckle up to reduce the stress of lifting heavy boxes all day.

Nobody claims that exosuits can single-handedly solve unergonomic situations; but they are an additional tool to complement regular chiropractic care, better workspace design, and platitudes like “work smarter, not harder”, “lift your legs”, “if you don’t stop lazing, I’ll throw out all of your baseball cards”, etc. .

No, exosuits don’t make workers superhumans (although unions are reportedly calling for them to include that funky “six million dollar man jumping” sound effect), but they are designed to reduce stress and soft tissue damage by 30- 40%.

I’ve heard rumors that companies are even considering tweaking exo suits to help with mental and emotional stress. Code name: The Green Mile. (“I’m tired, boss – but only 60% as tired as before.”)

The exo-suits use sensors and algorithms that train workers to develop muscle memory to perform their tasks more efficiently. (New recruiting slogan: “Put on a numbing, soul-robbing shift and still have the momentum to piggyback your rugrats! Who could ask more? No, seriously, who could ask more? We” Keep an eye on your discontent . “

Okay, I know the words “sensors” and “algorithms” are warning signs for a lot of you.

I’ve had enough personal experience with defective sensors to know that fulfillment centers have problems. It’s hard to concentrate on work when an over-sensitive sensor prompts you, “Why are you stacking these salsa boxes on a pallet when your car is parked in the parking lot with the door slightly ajar, you idiot?”

And I realize that a large percentage of you who are not math nerds are tired of hearing about algorithms in every news story. It is as if algorithms are slowly rewriting not only our history, but also the values ​​that we want to pass on to our children. (“The Louisiana purchase was researched by the Algorithm and Clark Expedition.” “Fonzie skipped an algorithm.” “Babies are made when a mom algorithm and a daddy algorithm are very loving.”

Workers in exo-suit experiments fall into three general categories: those who welcome the relief, those who are skeptical, and those who believe the suits should be shared FIRST with our politicians, those who are at risk from repetitive threats Movements such as finger pointing are exposed, back – stabbing, shoveling manure etc.

I’m cautiously optimistic that exosuits can keep more workers in the country away from hospitals and nursing homes. However, many experts fear that we know next to nothing about the long-term effects on family life.

Prepare for a world where we might hear, “If you’ve been reaching for olives from the top shelf for more than four hours, see a doctor” or “Ha! Got your nose! But … uh … I can’t return it until I restart. “

© 2021 Danny Tyree