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Beri & Jasmine on Tour: Active vs. passive exoskeletons (DPD tests exoskeletons)

Exos... what...?

Remember our blog post from March 2022? If not, no problem...
Anyway, we first reported on the exoskeletons back then and in our first blog post from our Beri & Jasmine on Tour series, we then tested them ourselves. 

We briefly summarize once again:

What are exoskeletons?

Exoskeletons are external skeletons on the body and can, for example, make heavy lifting easier for our depot employees and protect their strength and back. They support the movements of the own body.

What is the difference between the active and passive exoskeletons?

The basic characteristic of the active exoskeletons is primarily the Motor or the hydraulics (compressed air). Passive exoskeletons, on the other hand, support the body only by means of mechanical components, such as springs or elastic bands. 

Conclusion on active exoskeletons:

We have used the active exoskeletons with remote control in our depot in Wittenwil for one year. Although the back is definitely more spared on a whole work shift, for example, with the carrying of heavy tires, it becomes heavy for the body with its approximately 8 kg. From experience, the use of these active exoskeletons makes sense when a usual work shift would consist of really very heavy packages. Ville Heimgarter, our Senior Innovation Project & Sustainability Manager, closely followed the test.

DPD: Ville, what is your feedback?

Ville: "The response for the active exoskeletons was mixed. In particular, the extra weight was perceived as uncomfortable over a longer period of time. In addition, for lighter packages, the exoskeleton was perceived as more of a burden. As a result, it was also not used as often as planned."

New passive exoskeletons:

We are now extending the test phase of the pilot project and testing the passive exoskeletons. Our test phase started in October 2022 and is expected to last until October 2023. We are currently using them in our depots in Wittenwil and from mid-February in Buchs. The goal is to continue to relieve the DPD employees and to make the workplace more attractive.

Our new passive exoskeletons "LiftSuit 2" are from the company Auxivo AG. The company was founded as a spin-off of the Rehabilitation Engineering Lab of ETH Zurich and is based on the expertise and knowledge from many years of research and development.

These passive exoskeletons have energy storage in the form of elastic bands. If you bend forward to pick up a load, for example, these elements store energy that is released again during the upward movement. This promotes correct lifting and relieves the back and hip muscles. At <0.9 kg, these exoskeletons are 10 times lighter than active exoskeletons, making them one of the lightest on the market. They are designed for light weight use and especially for good ergonomics.

We ask Ville again: Why exactly these exoskeletons? What is their added value?

Ville: "The reduced weight makes wearing the passive exoskeletons more comfortable. You can compare it to a winter jacket. They are more flexible, lighter and more scalable. The feedback from the employees is always positive and the wearing time is massively increased. However, the digital tracking is not there and they can only provide half the support or take half the weight off compared to the active exoskeletons. However, apart from the tires, we don't have many heavy packages. A usual work shift does not consist only of heavy packages, but is a mix. To be more precise, the average weight of all packages is around 5 kg. Thus, the passive exoskeletons are perceived as more comfortable."

Beri & Jasmine wouldn't be on tour if they didn't test them themselves. What are the differences? How do the passive exoskeletons feel?

Beri: "The passive exoskeletons are definitely lighter and more comfortable to wear. However, I needed support to put on the suit. I assisted my colleagues at the depot in unloading a swap body. My conclusion: standing up, I didn't notice much difference, which I found comfortable and good. However, when I bent forward to lift the packages, I felt the elastic bands at the back stretch. So on the one hand, my posture was more ergonomic and on the other hand, when I moved up, I felt the ligaments contract again. This movement then actually relieved my back after a longer period of time."

Stay tuned, Beri & Jasmine are always on tour taking a close look at DPD's processes and operations.

Source: Active and passive exoskeletons | DPD Switzerland

Tom Illauer

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