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LAS VEGAS — Baggage handlers, technicians and other employees at an airline have a lot of heavy lifting to do, literally. So, Delta is partnering with Salt Lake-based Sarcos Robotics to create robot exoskeletons that will allow employees to easily lift heavy loads without any effort at all.
The suit, dubbed the Sarcos Guardian XO, is a battery-powered, full-body exoskeleton that bears the weight of whatever load employees are carrying and allows them to lift up to 200 pounds repeatedly for up to eight hours without any strain or tiring.
“Imagine if we could turn our team members into superhumans, giving them superhuman strength and superhuman endurance,” Sarcos CEO Ben Wolff said Tuesday during a Delta keynote address at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
Sarcos was founded in the early 1980s and has since developed three exoskeleton robots that humans can use to enhance their work performance. The technology is meant to augment humans rather than replace them, the company believes.
Delta is the first company whose frontline employees have worked directly with Sarcos to figure out different real-world uses for the robot suit. The airline believes the suit could be beneficial for handling freight at cargo warehouses, moving maintenance components, or lifting heavy machinery and parts for ground support equipment.
The suit will also “level the playing field” for specific jobs that were previously hired based on physical strength, as well as save employees’ backs and muscles from wear, tear and serious injuries.
“More people have opportunities to stay in their current roles longer because they can do the job longer, and we have employees who love what they do and would love to do it forever. This technology can actually help them do that,” said Willy Barnett, innovation strategist at Delta’s hangar.
Gareth Joyce, Delta’s senior vice president of airport customer service and president of cargo, believes the technology could “potentially shape the way we work in the future in the airline industry.”
Delta will test the tech during the first quarter of 2020 and provide feedback to Sarcos. The suit’s cost is still unknown.
Delta, a major hub at Salt Lake City International Airport, also announced other coming innovations during the company’s keynote at CES — the first time any airline had hosted a keynote at the tech industry’s biggest show.
Delta wants to transform its digital app into a one-stop-shop for everything you might need on the day you travel. This includes a partnership with Lyft that allows customers to link their Delta SkyMiles with their Lyft account and earn miles as they ride to the airport and pay for other Lyft rides with those miles.
The app will also alert customers of their boarding time according to the seat they’re in rather than when the plane starts boarding.
Come summer, Delta will launch a beta test of a new tech they call “parallel reality” in the Detroit airport. Customers will opt into the program, which will then allow them to see personalized information on the screens around the airport.
For example, if a customer that’s opted in looks at one of the screens that normally displays flight times and gates, instead of having to search for their flight, they will only see their flight information in their preferred language. But another customer will look at the same screen and see the information they need.
Delta did not offer a lot of explanation on how the technology works, claiming the information was proprietary. They did, however, say they would leverage something called “multi-view pixels.”
Delta will allow customers to access the airline's entertainment options on their personal devices, even before they get on the plane. They can then continue watching on Delta's screens once they board the plane. Some Delta flights currently include a wireless system, allowing customers to use Bluetooth headphones with the seat screens — something they hope to expand to other flights in the near future.
Delta will also pilot a “binge button” that will let flyers watch whole seasons of a TV show uninterrupted or take advantage of a “recommended for you” feature that offers curated recommendations based on previous viewing behavior.
The airline will also test “do not disturb” or “wake me for meal service” features for long flights.
Watch the full keynote here.