Friday, September 19, 2014

South Korean Shipbuilders Make Cyber-Suits a Reality

With each passing day, there's more news from the world of cybernetics that continue to defy our imaginations. Ever since Arnold (aka "Ahhnold") stepped out of an explosion stripped down to his T-100 bones, the cinematic portrayal of human anatomy in robotic frames have been rooted in our minds.  And while movies like Edge of Tomorrow usually frame the growing trend of merging man and machine in the context of war and military might, the actual application of this tech could have alternative purposes.

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.

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