In another scene straight out of a science fiction film, a South Korean shipyard proves mecha technology has finally arrived. Instead of giant gladiatorial robots roaming the battlefield, the reality is closer to the robotic exoskeleton power loaders that Ripley in Aliens so deftly uses to save her life. Although there are several companies with similar systems in some stage of development, the South Korean company Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering is ahead of the pack in testing robotic exoskeletons on the field.
Daewoo shipbuilding and Marine Engineering is the third largest shipyard in the world and remains steadily busy despite the less than robust demand for shipyard services worldwide. Currently, the company is fulfilling a massive order of 20 Triple Class E container ships, true behemoths that at 400 meters long are the largest ships in the world, for Danish shipping giant Maersk. The exoskeleton system being developed and tested at Daewoo’s Okpo-dong shipyard in Korea intends to reduce fatigue and injury among their skilled workforce, which in turn will decrease production time.
Made to fit the height of an average worker (5.25′-6′), the exoskeleton weighs 61.7 lbs. The exoskeleton is also self supporting, so the operator feels no additional strain. The system is made of carbon fiber, aluminum, and steel and utilizes a series of motors and hydraulics to augment the strength of the worker. In its current state, the system enables the operator to lift 30 kg (66.1 lbs) with ease.
While the prototype tests were a success, there are still a few obstacles to be cleared before Daewoo distributes this as standard equipment in their shipyards. A few outstanding issues include the speed of the device, performance on slippery surfaces, and mobility issues pertaining to twisting maneuvers. Also, all of the operators interviewed expressed a desire to lift heavier loads, which is precisely what Daewoo engineers are working on, with a goal of lifting 100 kg (220 lbs) of load.
Although not quite Robotech, this is yet another successful example of cybernetic human enhancement.