Welcome to the newest player in the exoskeleton industry German Bionic Systems and their first wearable robot to enter production: the CRAY X. The CRAY X is a powered hip exoskeleton designed for back support and lift assist. It is intended to be used primarily by workers in warehouses and other similar work environments.
German Bionic Systems is located in Ausburg and Berlin and it is the first manufacturer of powered industrial exoskeletons in Germany. How could this be? From a regulatory point of view, Germany has been very friendly to wearable robotics importers. The country does not have many wearables manufacturers but is more than happy to import the final product.
What is the CRAY X?
The CRAY X is a powered hip exoskeleton for work and industry. The main applications are manual handling of goods, instruments, and reduction of the compressure pressure in the lower-back area while lifting heavy loads. The CRAY X should support and strengthen the user’s movements. The main return on investment from the device does not stem from increased productivity where fewer workers will be needed, but from a long-term reduction in workplace accidents.
“Exoskeletons should not make super humans for production, but should rather provide physical ergonomic support that protects workers and employers from dangerous movements causing mid- or long-term injuries to the musculoskeletal system,” – Dr. Peter Heiligensetzer, CEO of German Bionic Systems (who has a rich history in human-robot cooperation or cobots for short)
The device uses harmonic drives to reduce the high rotational rate of brushless motors down to a low rotational speed with high torque. Harmonic Drive LLC recently exhibited at the Las Vegas CES (Consumer Electronics Show) 2018 where it welcomed a team from suitX, designer of the Phoenix walking assist exoskeleton that also uses harmonic drives. Perhaps CRAY X will usher in a new era of harmonic drive gear exoskeletons?
The Name of the Game is Fatigue
Back support exoskeletons have the lofty goal of reducing musculoskeletal worksite related injuries, but how can they do that? The answer is a reduction in fatigue. There are two types of fatigue that wearables can address, mental and physical. Mental fatigue is when the worker becomes too tired from a repetitive set of motions and begins to make mistakes. Physical fatigue is when the natural breakdown of muscles begins to exceed their regeneration, usually culminating in a physical injury.
For an employee that has to do heavy lifting every day for five to six times a day, it is easy to imagine how the wear and tear on the body can become excessive. Conceptually, a back support exoskeleton such as the CRAY X can alleviate this problem. The wearable device strives to reduce the activation force in the muscles in the back, which then reduces the compression forces on the spine. Muscle and mental fatigue, how to measure it, and the opportunity exoskeletons present in this area is quickly becoming the central topic for industrial exoskeletons.
Back Support Exoskeleton Convergence
If you are new to industrial exoskeletons you might not notice it, but these type of devices are starting to closely resemble one another. It seems that what we are observing is a convergence of design, perhaps driven by the demands in the workplace and results in field trials.
Distinguishing one back support exoskeleton from another is starting to become challenging. But don’t worry, the Wearable Robotics Association has been working with representatives from half a dozen organizations on a white paper on this very subject! It is scheduled to be released sometime around WearRAcon18 and it will be of great help to shed some light on the matter.
German Bionic CRAY X: First Exoskeleton Made in Germany Goes into Production, Jan 10th, 2018, https://www.germanbionic.com/news-press/
CES 2018 – Suit X Exoskeleton at the Consumer Electronics Show, House of Design Robotics, YouTube, Jan 16th, 2018, https://youtu.be/qTxxwLWsMoA