Trials have been carried out to develop robotic exoskeleton suits for workers in a South Korean shipbuilding site.
New Scientist has reported on shipyward workers in South Korea using wearable robotics to assist in their daily work. The prototype exoskeletons allow the workers to lift objects with a mass of 30 kilograms whilst walking at a normal pace.
Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering are the company behind the tests of the exoskeleton, as they want to outfit their workers with these suits to increase production in the future.
Lead engineer for the research, Gilwhoan Chu, has said that the trial showed the exoskeleton does help workers to carry out their tasks. The shipyard currently uses robots to run a large part of the assembly system, but they also want their workers to wear the exoskeletons in the future to boost production further.
The exoskeleton weighs 28 kilograms, and is made up of aluminium alloy, steel, and carbon, which all supports itself and follows the wearer’s movements. Hydraulic joints and electric motors all connect into a backpack, which houses the electrical parts and battery of the suit.
To wear the suit you need to strap your feet into the foot pads at its base, along with the straps at the thigh, waist and chest to allow yourself to be connected to the suit itself. There are different frames for the suit too, which are designed for specific tasks – for example there’s one which arcs over the wearer’s head like crane.
The feedback from the trials has been mostly positive, according to Chu. Users were happy with the exoskeleton allowing them to lift heavy objects with no straining, but they want it to allow for faster movement and the lifting of heavier loads. Chu says, ‘our current research target of the lifting capacity is about 100 kilograms,’ so it looks like they’re listening to the feedback.
Who knows, in twenty years’ time we could be seeing a mech-suit like the one in Aliens, stomping around industrial sites. Here's hoping!