Is this Korean Company Employing Cyborgs?

Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering is outfitting its workers with robotic exoskeletons.

Last year, Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering, one of the biggest shipbuilders in the world, ran a pilot test with workers outfitted in wearable robotics at their facility in Okpo-dong in South Korea. The carbon, aluminum alloy, and steel exoskeleton gives its wearer support during heavy lifting, but is designed so that its 28-kg frame doesn't prove to be burdensome. Workers strap themselves into the robotics, starting at the feet and moving up across the thighs, waist, and chest. A backpack connected to the rig powers and controls the suit.

Photo courtesy Daewoo

Gilwhoan Chu, the lead engineer for Daewoo’s R&D sector, said that testers gave mostly positive feedback, reporting that they were able to repeatedly lift objects up to 30 kg. The overall success of the test proves that the exoskeleton will help workers with their tasks, Chu said, though certain aspects of the suit would need to be improved, such as enabling the suits to withstand twisting motions, lift greater mass (Chu says their target is about 100 kg), and navigate slick surfaces and slopes.

Automation has already been in use for over a decade in Daewoo’s shipbuilding production, and worries about robotics replacing human workers have been raised time and time again, but Chu’s exoskeleton may be further fuel for the argument that there’s room for both to work together.