In South Korea, where the world's biggest ships are made, workers may soon start donning robotic exoskeletons that would allow them to lift "100-kilogram hunks of metal as if they're nothing."
The exoskeleton fits anyone between 160 and 185 centimetres tall. Workers do not feel the weight of its 28-kilogram frame of carbon, aluminium alloy and steel, as the suit supports itself and is engineered to follow the wearer's movements. With a 3-hour battery life, the exoskeleton allows users to walk at a normal pace and, in its prototype form, it can lift objects with a mass of up to 30 kilograms.
To don the exoskeleton, workers start by strapping their feet on to foot pads at the base of the robot. Padded straps at the thigh, waist and across the chest connect the user to the suit, allowing the robot to move with their bodies as it bears loads for them. A system of hydraulic joints and electric motors running up the outside of the legs links to a backpack, which powers and controls the rig.
Frames designed for individual tasks can be attached to the backpack, with some arcing over a person's head like a small crane. As well as boosting raw lifting ability, the suit helps workers manipulate heavy components precisely: it takes most of the weight, so the user is effectively handling light objects.
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