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"Exoskeletons protect the wearer from peak loads".

He is professor and managing partner at the same time. In addition to his teaching and research activities, Robert Weidner co-founded exoIQ. The first self-developed shoulder exoskeleton is scheduled for market launch in the first quarter of 2023.

Cineastes will remember "Aliens" with a shudder. Among the spectacular scenes of the science fiction classic is the battle of the space beast with the leading actress Sigourney Weaver "throwing on" the P-5000 Powered Work Loader.

Robert Weidner also shudders - albeit more from a scientific perspective. "An exoskeleton is not a forklift that can be put on," says the professor who specializes in assistive technologies for humans. "With an Exoskeleton is a mechanical support structure that diverts force from particularly stressed areas of the body to enable, reinforce, facilitate or stabilize human movement, depending on the shape of the exoskeleton."

Expert in demand

The Mechanical Engineer is an expert in this field. The list of publications is long. His Expertise is in demand. "The topic of exoskeletons is driving me on several fronts," explains Professor Dr.-Ing. Robert Weidner, who is working on the Leopold Franzens University Innsbruck (Austria) teaches.

In addition, there are various Research projects. Together with the German Social Accident Insurance, its Department of Trade and Logistics and Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, a project was carried out within the framework of "exo@work" a guideline for the evaluation of exoskeletons for the working world was developed.

Research project in the craft sector

Also in the SHK trade the researcher is already known. "In the project ,Journeyman craftsman 4.0', we worked with the German Plumbing, Heating and Air Conditioning Association and companies to investigate, among other things, what specific requirements the systems must meet to provide optimal support for installers."

More on the subject of exoskeletons Haaß GmbH & Co. KG from Mönchengladbach has tested four different lifting and carrying aids as part of the "Handwerksgeselle 4.0" research project. You can read about the results reached by managing partner Kathrin de Blois in the Online article "SHK crafts company lets its employees test four exoskeletons" on handwerksblatt.de. In Online article "Exoskeletons are a worthwhile investment for craftsmen". explains how Hunic's passive exoskeletons are designed to make working with heavy loads easier, but also to guide their wearers to a back-friendly posture.

Use of exoskeletons

Exoskeletons are used for physically demanding work to use, which strain the legs, arms, hands, shoulders or back. "You will like a Garment or like a Backpack donned and with the respective Body part connected", explains Prof. Dr.-Ing. Robert Weidner.

In a shoulder exoskeleton, for example, the support structures are attached to the two upper arms. They transfer the force acting on the arms and shoulders to the pelvis during overhead work. "This system literally reaches under the user's arms from behind."

Protection against load peaks

It is important to the scientist to work with a Myth clean up. "A Exoskeleton lends no superpowers." This, he said, can be explained in physical terms alone. A weight of five kilograms that must be absorbed will continue to weigh five kilogramgrams. "These systems protect the wearer from peak loads. But in doing so, they make the activity noticeably easier, and users still train and maintain their basic physical performance."

Active and passive exoskeletons

At Exoskeletons is used between active and passive systems distinguished. "At passive systems the dissipated energy is measured in one direction of motion by means of a Spring damper element or one Pulley stored and delivered in a different direction of motion."

To illustrate this, the engineer draws a comparison from vehicle construction. When the trunk lid of a car is closed, the gas springs are charged. If the trunk lid is then opened beyond a certain point, the stored energy is released again.

In contrast, a active exoskeleton from a external power source like a motor, which draws its energy from rechargeable batteries, for example.

Exoskeletons - then and now

Exoskeletons are not a fundamentally new development. Their History of origins dates back to Russia at the beginning of the 20th century. In the mid-1960s, the American company General Electric presented the first prototype. "The 'Hardiman' was a kind of robot for dressing, but the project failed, according to information on the Internet," says Robert Weidner.

In the following decades, the technology was mainly considered from a military point of view, among others in the USA. Other areas of application were also in rehabilitation and care. It was not until the 2010s that industry rediscovered exoskeletons as a support for workers in production.

Market-ready technology

According to Robert Weidner, the Quality and the Quantity of the systems recently steadily increased. According to the Platform "Exoskeleton Report there are now over 100 companieswho offer or want to offer exoskeletons. However, these are mainly manufacturers for industrial exoskeletons and exoskeletons for other applications such as therapy. In addition, there are some research systems with a very high degree of maturity.

"The Technology is therefore definitely the Outgrowing children's shoes. From the researcher's point of view, of course, I still see further potential for optimization." The passive exoskeletons have a higher market share than the active ones, at least so far. This is probably mainly due to the price. "Passive systems tend to be more affordable than active systems."

Foundation of exoIQ

Building on the joint research work, the Robert Weidner with his colleague Bernward Otten in 2017 the company exoIQ founded. Already in the summer of 2018, the TTS Tooltechnic Systems as a strategic partner. The group of companies includes, among others, the power tool manufacturers Festool and Shaper Tools.

Shaper ToolsIm Online article "Shaper Tools relies on augmented reality for handheld milling machine Origin" on handwerksblatt.de we report on how digitally assisted milling works in AR. 

The First product of exoIQ, the Shoulder exoskeleton S700 be. "It is particularly suitable for work at chest height and above the head," says Robert Weidner, describing the Application area. The S700 is scheduled for market launch in the first quarter of 2023 and will be available directly. Further systems are to follow.

Test S700 from exoIQ

The purchase of an exoskeleton should be well considered. It is therefore all the more important to Robert Weidner that potential buyers and users can get an idea of it in advance. "We had the first public presentation of the S700 at the 'Automatica' in Munich."

In addition to trade fairs, the shoulder exoskeleton is also presented at events organized by chambers, associations or companies. The managing director of exoIQ is looking for the conversation here. "We want to find out directly what interests the customer or what bothers him."

Try it out he considers to be very important. However, the S700 will not simply be packed into a package and shipped. "Exoskeletons are a new technology that requires explanation. This is not a product you just throw over the fence."

Source: "Exoskeletons protect the wearer from stress peaks" (handwerksblatt.de) (17.10.2022)

Tom Illauer

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