Shipyard workers test out robot suits in South Korea

Shipyard workers test out robot suits in South Korea
Credit: Daewoo

Industry leaders looking to see how automation and product ion will behave on the next levels will see two technology paths, robots offered as replacements for human labor and robotic technologies that will not replace humans but instead improve the ability of humans to perform their tasks. A ship-building company in South Korea is interested in the latter path in the form of robotic suits that can support workers' tasks. Their progress indicates how workers building the world's biggest ships could use exoskeletons to great advantage.

A report in New Scientist has been making the rounds this week about just such an idea that has been put to the test. Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering (DSME) last year conducted the trial at a shipyard in Okpo-dong in South Korea. The workers in wearable robotics carried large hunks of metal, pipes and other objects. The suited-up workers were pleased that the exoskeleton allowed them to lift the heavy objects repeatedly without strain, but they also relayed feedback that they wanted to move faster and have the suits support heavier loads.

Gilwhoan Chu, lead engineer for the firm's research and development arm, and his team are working on improvements. The goal is for the prototypes to turn into suits for regular use in the shipyard. New Scientist said among the challenges to be worked out now involve operating on sloping and slippery surfaces and tasks with twisting motions.

The exoskeleton fits anyone between 160 (about 5 feet 2) and 185 (6 feet) centimeters tall; it has a 28-kilogram frame (62 pounds) of carbon, aluminium alloy and steel but the suit supports itself, engineered to follow the wearer's movements. A system of hydraulic joints and electric motors running up the outside of the legs, said New Scientist, links to a backpack, which powers and controls the rig. It can lift objects with a mass of up to 30 kilograms (66 pounds) and has a three-hour battery life,

The world's top three shipbuilding firms are South Korean – Daewoo, Hyundai Heavy Industries and Samsung Heavy Industries – and their shipyards are already recognized for their level of automation, said New Scientist. DSME, according to the company's site, operates its R&D center for product design, production technologies and other fundamental technologies related to shipbuilding and offshore construction.


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Aug 05, 2014
And before long, we will replace so many workers with robots that no one can afford to buy the products because they were replaced with robots. It won't be long before this becomes an issue.

Aug 05, 2014
These are robotic suits, they don't work without human operators, so few human jobs will be lost.

Even if some jobs are lost to robots (and who really wants to lift 30 kg of steel anyway?), there will be additional jobs for designers, programmers and service maintenance jobs that will be needed to service robots.

Aug 05, 2014
30 kilograms? thats pathetic

Aug 05, 2014
These are robotic suits, they don't work without human operators, so few human jobs will be lost.


Suggest think things thru a bit better before commenting. If the suit enables one person to lift something that normally requires 2 people one of them is out of a job. My guess is there would be a lot of jobs like that in shipbuilding

Even if some jobs are lost to robots (and who really wants to lift 30 kg of steel anyway?), there will be additional jobs for designers, programmers and service maintenance jobs that will be needed to service robots.

Obviously they are betting on a net reduction in labor costs in order for this to be profitable. IOW layoffs.

Aug 06, 2014
And before long, we will replace so many workers with robots that no one can afford to buy the products because they were replaced with robots. It won't be long before this becomes an issue.


I think it's already become a problem. One that will only get worse.

Aug 06, 2014
I wonder if anyone has done a differential cost benefit analysis of this approach versus diet & weight training so the pithy workers can lift 100Kgs at a time, be happy to do it & improve health, well being & self esteem etc ?

Though yes I must agree that robotics is continuing to advance with respect of power & simultaneously dexterity which does raise the question as to how people will fund their existence in terms of medium of exchange when there are large amounts of unskilled labour potential with receding value. Be prepared for significant economic rebellion or perhaps the widespread use of Soma to maintain the status quo - don't we have that already however to a degree in terms of chemical & psychological massaging of the labour force ?

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