May 19 (UPI) -- An exoskeleton, worn by U.S. Air Force aerial porters to assist in lifting objects with reduced strain, will make its debut at Travis Air Force Base, Calif., the branch announced on Wednesday.
The device, designed by Arizona State University and the Air Force Life Cycle Management and Air Mobility Command, will be used in an official capacity for the first time this week.
The Aerial Port Exoskeleton, still in its prototype phase of development, is an element of the uniform worn by those in the classification of aerial port, which involves lifting of materials and moving materials on and off aircraft.
If successful, it will be utilized throughout the Air Force, officials said in a press release.
The device is essentially a harness with assistive lifting properties, made of metal and composite components, and is meant to reduce strain and injuries while increasing productivity.
Researchers at Arizona State University's IDEAlab explain the device as "a wearable hybrid robotic system that assists, enhances, and augments a person in their daily activities around the home and in the workplace."
The project is the product of a 2019 investigation known as the Volpe study.
"The Volpe study was a Department of Transportation study that focused on why retired aerial porters alone were costing upwards of $31 million a year on disability benefits," Tech. Sgt. Landon Jensen, of the Air Mobility Command, said in the Air Force press release.
Airmen who tested the exoskeleton for a month said load bearing is significantly reduced.
"This suit's core function is to help us lift, but can also be used in other ways," said Airman 1st Class Kyle Sunderman, 60th Aerial Post Squadron ramp serviceman.
"During a load, fatigue can be a real issue and these exoskeletons really take a lot of the strain away," Sunderman said.