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Is this the future for wearable robotics?

9th September 2019


Hyundai has developed the Vest EXoskeleton (VEX), a wearable robot created to assist industrial workers who spend long hours working in overhead environments.

The VEX enhances productivity and reduces fatigue of industrial workers by imitating the movement of human joints to boost load support and mobility. It uses multi-link muscular assistance to function, eliminating the need for a battery.

At 2.5kg, VEX weighs 22-42 per cent less than competing products and is worn like a backpack. The user places their arms through the shoulder straps of the vest, then fastens the chest and waist buckles. The back section can adjust in length by up to 18 cm to fit a variety of body sizes, while the degree of force assistance can be adjusted over six levels – up to as much as 5.5 kgf. 

“VEX gives workers greater load support, mobility, and adaptability when operating in overhead environments,” stated DongJin Hyun, head of the Robotics team of Hyundai. “Workers will also appreciate how light VEX is to wear and work with.” 

It is targeted at production-line workers whose job is primarily overhead, such as those bolting items to the underside of vehicles, fitting brake tubes, and attaching exhausts. The development of the VEX included a pilot program in two Hyundai plants in the US. The trial was widely successful in assisting workers and boosting productivity and both plants incorporated VEX systems in their production lines.  

The Group is considering on implementing the VEX on plants around the world. It is expected to go into commercial production in December by Hyundai Rotem and is projected to cost as much as 30 per cent lower than existing products which usually costs around US5,000. 

As part of the Group’s plans to develop a diverse range of robotics technologies, another lightweight wearable device is soon to be commercialised. The ‘Chairless EXoskeleton’ (CEX) supports workers to maintain a sitting position without a stool or chair. At 1.6kg, it is light yet highly durable and able to withstand weights of up to 150kg. 

The CEX’s waist, thigh and knee belts can be easily fitted and adjusted to the user’s body size and height. It also features three different angle settings (85/70/55 degrees). By reducing the user’s back and lower body muscle activity by 40 per cent, it reduces fatigue and improves efficiency. 

According to the International Federation of Robotics, the wearable robotics industry is growing 14 per cent annually, a rate which is accelerating. By 2021 approximately 630,000 commercial robots will be sold worldwide, with the greatest demand coming from the automotive sector. In 2017, 126,000 robots were supplied to the auto sector, making-up 33 per cent of all commercial robots.  

See Ford’s take on wearable robotics here.

 


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