Wearable exoskeletons give production-line workers more strength and staying power. Picture: SUPPLIED
Wearable exoskeletons give production-line workers more strength and staying power. Picture: SUPPLIED

Hyundai Motor Group has developed a new 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. The wearable vest combines multiple pivot points with multilink muscular assistance to eliminate the need for a battery.

At 2.5kg, VEX is worn like a backpack. Users place their arms through the shoulder straps of the vest, then fasten the chest and waist buckles. The back section can adjust in length to fit a variety of body sizes, while the degree of force assistance can be adjusted over six levels.

“VEX gives workers greater load support, mobility, and adaptability when operating in overhead environments,” said Dong-Jin Hyun, head of Hyundai’s robotics team. “Workers will also appreciate how light VEX is to wear and work with.”

The newly-developed VEX is targeted at production-line workers whose job is primarily overhead, such as those bolting the underside of vehicles, fitting brake tubes, and attaching exhausts.

After testing it in trials, Hyundai is considering 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% lower than existing products which usually cost around R75,000.

As part of Hyundai’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 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. By reducing the user’s back and lower body muscle activity by 40%, it reduces fatigue and improves efficiency.

According to the International Federation of Robotics, the wearable robotics industry is growing 14% annually. By 2021 about 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% of all commercial robots.