Today, the Nashville, TN, exoskeleton company HeroWear revealed its latest wearable product, the Apex 2. The new exosuit is based on three years of customer feedback and testing (the original Apex was released in March 2020, link). The Apex 2 continues to provide relief to the back muscles for warehouse, construction, manufacturing, and farming workers who have to regularly lift objects up from ground level, but now with sturdier materials and a smaller footprint.
The new Apex 2 is designed around improvements in three main areas of user feedback: durability, ease of use, and comfort (both heat dissipation and fit). Paul Nicholson, VP of Growth at HeroWear, was kind enough to provide additional technical information on how the Apex 2 improves on the original:
Major Improvements Made to Comfort:
The overall Apex 2 back depth is more than 50% thinner than on Apex 1, making it even more comfortable for people to sit or lean back in. This is meant to increase the comfort of users while sitting in higher-backed chairs, forklifts, truck seats, etc.
- Revised shape and construction of the strap component to improve load distribution across the torso and drastically improve comfort when reaching in front of the body.
- HeroWear also reduced the surface area on the back by half by turning it into a ventilated panel that reduces heat retention.
- Reduced the surface area of the thigh sleeves by 40%, with the intent to further reduce heat retention.
- The Apex 2 also incorporates a patent-pending quick tightening/loosening feature to the thigh sleeves. For more on this, see the peer-reviewed study “Exoskeletons and Exosuits Could Benefit from Mode-Switching Body Interfaces That Loosen/Tighten to Improve Thermal Comfort.” (Elstub 2021) In summary, the study suggests that exoskeleton straps (in this case, at the legs) should be automatically loosened when the wearable device is not actively assisting the user in order to reduce the amount of heat trapped by them.
- “It’s also worth noting, we made A LOT of subtle but critical design improvements in terms of how components are shaped and constructed, which materials we used, and how the suit behaves and conforms to the body under load. It’s hard to convey all of these changes. Feedback from workers makes it clear these updates have made the new suits even more physically comfortable to wear and use. Part of our secret sauce when it comes to comfort and user acceptance is obsessing over getting all these little details right. We’re really proud of the work our team has done, in close collaboration with clients, to create what we believe is the most comfortable, wearable, effective, and well-balanced exosuit in the world,” adds Paul Nicholson.
Major Improvements to Durability:
- HeroWear upgraded the fabric to a 1000D ballistic nylon that is more abrasion-resistant.
- Replaced the hook-and-loop fastener on the old thigh sleeves with a polymer buckle (originally a Velcro strap).
- Upgraded the polymer used for the plastic components in the clutch and replaced the elastic band connections with aircraft-grade aluminum.
- “It’s also worth saying that we didn’t see a high failure rate with Apex 1, but some of the environments our users work in demand a lot from their equipment (The US Armed Forces, among others [SABER]), and we wanted to meet that challenge and then some,” elaborates Paul.
Carried over from the original Apex is HeroWear’s commitment to fitting both men and women within a larger range of various different body sizes and shapes. The Apex 2 also retains the get-out-of-the-way assistance philosophy (the switch on the shoulder of the Apex engages and disengages the tension of the elastic elements in the back with a single click). The exosuit continues to be modular with interchangeable pieces, and all combined weigh 3 pounds (compared to 3.4 pounds for the previous model).
“When we launched the Apex in 2020, we just wanted to help people do their jobs without sacrificing their bodies, so they could go home with more energy and less pain,” said Karl Zelik, co-founder and Chief Scientific Officer of HeroWear and Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Vanderbilt University. “We accomplished this with the original Apex. It’s impacting people’s lives, on and off the job. We’ve seen it in the data and we hear it from long-time users. But also we listened and learned from these users and identified areas to improve the suit. We obsessed over the minute design details that make a huge difference in user experience. Now we’re excited to bring these latest innovations to workers around the world.”
It has been five years since Vanderbilt University revealed an early concept prototype of the Apex at WearRAcon 18. The acceptance of the Apex 2 will be a test for how well HeroWear and even the entire exoskeleton industry can design and build wearables based on user feedback.
Featured image (top): the Apex 2 in use. Photo courtesy of HeroWear LLC.