You may be familiar with the American, European and Japanese exoskeleton research projects, but did you know that South Korean universities have been busy developing their own power suits? Published in May 2015 by Ariang News, the video below showcases the latest work by Seoul′s Sogang University in Korea. This device is an actuated hip and knee lower extremities exoskeleton that sports 25 sensors. In the video, the able-body user appears to be extremely comfortable wearing the device which is quite flexible and does not impede smaller motions in his legs.
The wearable robot featured above is not the first exoskeleton project by Sogang University and professor Kyung-Chul Kong. The video (below) from 2011 shows an earlier project by the university in various environments. The highlight of this exoskeleton is that it is back-drivable (the user can push back and bend the exoskeleton). The electrical motor’s gear reduction scheme, in this case a worm gear, is connected to the exoskeleton frame using a torsional spring. Thus the two non-elastic elements are joined together by an elastic element creating an easier and safer fit between operator and machine. For more detail, refer to: Back-Drivability Recovery of a Full Lower Extremity Assistive Robot, Oct 2012, Byeonghun Na, Joonbum Bae, and Kyoungchul Kong, Sogang University and UNIST, pdf: BiRC Lab.
Another South Korean creation is the Rehabilitation System Walkbot for gait correction. The Walkbot exoskeleton performs the same task and looks like its Swiss counterpart Lokomat, by Hocoma.
Last but not least, Arirang published an overview of Korean wearable robotics in Mar 2014 (video below). Amongst other wearable devices, the video features heavily the KIST (Korean Institute of Science and Technology) – a lower body rehabilitation and assistive robot. The device is designed to be a stand alone, singe leg knee-ankle exoskeleton and a separate backpack for the batteries and controller. While the prototype is a bit bulky, this modular design can be used by a commercial entity that sells different size backpacks with controllers and batteries that power only specific joints as required by each individual user. For example, if a patient experiences knee pain while walking they could buy a backpack module and powered knee brace module (potentially there could be a module for each joint and larger backpack modules that can power more peripherals at the same time).
Another exoskeleton briefly featured in the above summary video is a newer version of the EXPOS robot tethered exoskeleton (Sogang University). Rather than having the rehabilitation exoskeleton attached to a stationary hook, a rail system or a wheeled frame, the device is directly connected and supported by a wheeled robot (smart caster). The wheeled robot adds stability to the robot-exoskeleton-human system and allows the user to choose where they want to go within the confines of a rehabilitation center. Furthermore, bulkier component such as batteries and controllers can be moved away from the exoskeleton and transferred to the robot.
South Korean universities have been busy over the past few years developing all kinds of wearable devices. No wonder Korean commercial giants, DAEWOO and Samsung are looking into developing their own commercial exoskeleton products. We should expect to see quite a few more South Korean Exoskeleton projects in the near future.
Want even more South Korean Exoskeletons?
Go to Assistive Exoskeletons Review, And Other Full R&D Papers to see another creation by Sogong University: the EXOwheel: a wheelchair that turns into an exoskeleton.