South Korean-based Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Exploration, one of the largest shipbuilding companies in the world, in an effort to find new ways to maximize efficiency, has developed their own exo-skeleton that assists existing workers with heavy multi-purpose lifting. The prototype can fit a laborer from roughly 5 to 6 feet tall, and help with heavy components weighing up 66 lbs. While it's far from ideal in the day-to-day tasks- workers have already complained it slows them down and doesn't account for enough weight- the suit's basic concept has proved a resounding success. Its combination of hydraulics and servomotors actually work to complement the laborer's own strength without hindering natural limb movement. From Daily Tech:
"The exoskeleton is made of a complex mix of carbon fiber, aluminum alloys, and steel alloys. It weighs 28 kg (61.7 lb.) and is capable of 3 hours of operation via lithium-ion batteries that accompany the control circuitry in the backpack of the suit. The suit is capable of walking at a "normal" human pace while carrying the 30 kg objects."
While not the first prototype of its kind (MIT recently unveiled an "Octopus arm" apparatus), Daewoo's in-house exo-suit is the first to be used in an industry setting. Already, US contractors such as Raytheon are taking notes for their own in-process projects. There's also a lot more to see before the design is considered a real paradigm shift; it's one thing for an exoskeleton to work, it's another for its application to translate into measurable efficiency. Still, Daewoo has taken a major step in robotics in the workplace, and the US industrial world should pay close attention to just how heavy this lifting will be.
Donal Thoms-Cappello is a freelance writer for Rotor Clip Company.