Korean Shipbuilders Forge Ahead with Robotic Exoskeletons

Korean engineers push the state of the art in robotic exoskeletons, field testing them at a shipbuilding facility.

For the last few years everyone from academics to the US Military have spent serious time and energy developing robotic exoskeletons for all manner of projects. But while research in the US is still plodding through R&D, Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering have already started field-testing robotic exoskeletons at its Okpo-dong shipyard.

In tests that were undertaken last year, Daewoo’s engineers equipped a team of workers with prototype exoskeletons to understand the system’s limitations.

Built to fit a 160-185cm (5.25-6ft) tall person, the current exoskeleton prototype is a completely self-supporting 28kg (61.7lbs) machine. Composed of carbon fiber, aluminum alloy and steel components, the exoskeleton has a 3-hour battery life and gives its wearer the ability to lift objects up to 30kg (66.1lbs) with ease. To lend a wearer augmented strength the exoskeleton employs a series of electric motors and hydraulic joints that are powered by a backpack style rig.

During tests the Daewoo exoskeleton displayed an effective level of dexterity, assisting workers with precise control as they moved heavy loads. Though the exoskeletons were able to accomplish their core goal of augmenting strength and diminishing fatigue, workers in the test did report some difficulties. Chief among these issues were frustrations with the exoskeleton’s lack of speed and its inability to operate properly when test subjects twisted or contorted their bodies.

While there are still many hurdles to overcome before Daewoo’s exoskeletons are ready for full-time employment, the company believes they could take shipbuilding production to the next level. Ideally Daewoo’s engineers would like to outfit an entire workforce with exoskeletons capable of aiding workers no matter what movements they’re making. What’s more they believe that exoskeletons capable of lifting up to 100kg (220lbs) could come online in short order.

Image Courtesy of Daewoo