Korean Shipbuilder Testing Industrial Exoskeletons for Future Cybernetic Workforce

Photo: Daewoo

Robots are stronger than humans. In situations where strength matters a lot, this often makes robots better than humans, at least for some specific tasks. However, robots are also dumber than humans, so making those super strong robots do what you want them to do can be a time consuming, expensive, and often utterly impossible task.

Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering (DSME) wants to combine humans and robots in the most direct possible way, by allowing robots to swallow humans whole. We're talking about exoskeletons, of course: we've seen them in the market for medical uses (like rehabilitation), but DSME just wants them to endow human workers with massive amounts of brute strength.

DSME's prototype exoskeleton (pictured above) weighs 28 kilograms, but it's entirely self-supporting (the exoskeleton includes a frame that extends to the ground), meaning that the human inside it doesn't feel any of that weight.

Electric and hydraulic actuators, all powered by a three-hour battery, enable its wearer to walk normally while assisting with up to 30 kg of lifting force. So, you'd be able to lift 30 kg like it was nothing, or 50 kg like it only weighed 20. The exoskeleton can also be outfitted with accessories that can turn it into a walking human crane like in the pic (note the chain link attached to the metal part the man is carrying).

In testing, shipyard workers generally seemed to like the exoskeleton, although (predictably) they wanted it to move faster and be able to lift more. The near term target is 100 kg, a capability that would come in handy for DSME, which is on contract to build 10 container ships for Maersk, each of which will be 400 meters long.

There's a little graphic on the DSME website that shows a cartoony dude in an exoskeleton lifting a block labeled "10t," which obviously means that DSME's ultimate goal is building an Iron Man-grade suit. With a 10-ton lifting capability, that would be like holding up some 500 ocelots at once (ocelots being my standard unit of weight for today). Honestly, though, I'd be fine with an exoskeleton that can just deal with (say) one or two hundred ocelots at once.

What I'm really exited for is the day when you'll be able to go down to your local hardware store and rent an exoskeleton for a few hours, for when you need to pack for a move, do yard work, or even just vacuum under the couch.

[ DSME ] via [ New Scientist ]

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