Will Huang, photo editor at the Cord.

Out of body: Exoskeleton in KW

Julia Vasilyeva

James Hobson, Kitchener’s Tony Stark in the making and local engineering graduate from Conestoga College, has built a fully-functional exoskeleton in his garage.

A self proclaimed hacksmith creating various tools from scrap metal, Hobson recently gained mass attention from a YouTube video demonstration of his exoskeleton featuring himself lifting 170lbs with ease. Published on Aug. 29 of this year, the video has racked up well over a million views.

“A lot of stuff like the Iron Man suit is still pretty outrageous —it’s never going to happen. It’s a bit too out there,” said Hobson. “But when the movie Elysium came out, I saw that and it was kind of what I built the exoskeleton off of because it was one of the first exoskeletons portrayed in a movie that was relatively speaking feasible, minus drilling it into your bones.”

The exoskeleton prototype is an upper body contraption, which uses pneumatic air cylinders built into a steel frame to perform the powerful 170lb lift. However, at full pressure for the air cylinders, the suit is expected to lift 300lbs.

The total project costs approximately $180, because the pneumatic air cylinders — which are worth approximately $300 — were a donation. It also took a mere 30 hours to complete.

With the attention of local media and millions of YouTube views behind him, Hobson’s exoskeleton prototype acquired enough votes online to win him a place as a finalist for 2014’s Boca Bearings Innovation Competition this past September. The grand prize winner, announced sometime in December, will be awarded $5,000 cash.

Companies and individuals have also reached out to Hobson and he has begun plans to develop a second exoskeleton.

“The current version I’m making is going to be more of a construction skills exoskeleton or a search and rescue skills exoskeleton,” he said. “It’s going to be big, bulky, but still flexible and will be able to increase your strength by a factor of three to four times your weight.”

According to Hobson, this is only the beginning. He plans to continue to build up his exoskeleton to look more like the one featured in Edge of Tomorrow starring Tom Cruise. Currently he is working on the design fully on computer software using his own dimensions that he recently obtained from a 3D body scan so the suit will fit him perfectly.

“If you can imagine, it’ll be standing there like a suit of armour and then you can walk in, strap it around yourself and take control,” Hobson said. He predicted to have a wooden model done by Christmas and a metal one by spring.

Down the road, he plans to consider working towards developing a more flexible and functional exoskeleton or exoskeleton-type device to aid in medical research and human augmentation.

Hobson is also scheduled to appear in a short demo for his exoskeleton on Daily Planet.

“You really just have to try stuff. A lot of people don’t try because they don’t know how but really the Internet is an amazing resource, that’s how I learned everything, and if you never try you’ll never know,” he said.