The Future is Here: Shipbuilder Robotic Exosuit

SK_exoskeletonWith numerous prototypes in development, it seems like just a matter of time before the industrial robotic exoskeleton becomes an everyday reality. Between NASA, the US armed forces, Panasonic, and now Daewoo, the range of powered robot suits seems virtually limitless. And Daewoo, the South-Korean manufacturing giant, now appears to be a step ahead of the competition, having already tested its prototype suits last year.

The test took place at a sprawling shipyard in Okpo-dong in South Korea, where workers dressed in wearable robotics were hefting large hunks of metal, pipes and other objects. It was all part of a test by Daewoo’s Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering facility, where workers strapped into 28kg (62 pound) aluminum alloy, steel and carbon fiber suits called the RoboShipbuilder that supported their own weight plus an additional 30kg (66 pounds).

Daewoo-exoskeletonAnyone between 160 and 185cm tall (5 feet 2 inches and 6 feet) fits the suit, and it has three hours of battery life. Straps across the legs, feet and chest secure the wearer, and the RoboShipbuilder runs on hydraulic joints and electric motors, with the power source tucked inside a backpack. And, because the suit bears most of the weight of the heavy objects, wearers have much finer control over what they are handling.

Gilwhoan Chu, the lead engineer for the firm’s research and development arm, says the pilot showed that the exoskeleton does help workers perform their tasks. Worker feedback was mostly positive, but their were comments that the suit could be faster and be bale to carry more weight. Chu and his team are working towards this, hoping to increase the robot’s lift capacity to 100 kilograms (220 pounds).

activelink-power-loader-concept-1The prototypes still have several important kinks to be worked out as well. In tests, workers had a hard time negotiating sloping or slippery surfaces. And the prototypes cannot yet cope with twisting motions, so workers making turns while carrying heavy objects could tire out easily. But South Korea’s vast shipbuilding market is committed to merging human oversight with automation, and Daewoo is hardly alone in working towards this goal.

Earlier this year, the Panasonic subsidiary Activelink is developing an exosuit known as the Powered Loader – a deliberate homage to the Caterpillar P-5000 Powered Work Loader from Aliens fame. According to Activelink, the Power Loader will enable a human to lift up to 100 kilos (220 pounds) and run at speeds up to 8 kilometers (5 miles) per hour, and will be powered by lithium ion battery packs that will provide several hours worth of power.

exoskeleton-titan-armThe exoskeleton will initially be deployed in construction work, nuclear power plants, and emergency situations, but the company has big plans for the future. Activelink would like to develop an exosuit that can fit under a spacesuit or diving gear for underwater and space exploration purposes. The Power Loader appears to be a full-body version of creations like the battery-powered robotic Titan Arm, which won the 2013 James Dyson Award.

The Titan Arm augments arm strength by 18 kg (40 pounds), helping rehabilitate people with back injuries and assisting those lifting objects as part of their daily work. The price for Panasonic’s strength suit is currently projected to be 500,000 yen (around $4,940), and Panasonic says it wants to bring the suits to market by next year. It’s an exciting time to be alive, where a once-feverish dream of science fiction fanatics is fast becoming reality!

And who knows? By the 2020’s, we might even be seeing something along the lines of this in active service:

"Get away from her you bitch!"
“Get away from her you bitch!”

And be sure to watch this video of the Power Loader exoskeleton being tested:


Sources: newscientist.com, cnet.com, (2), jamesdysonfoundation.com

The Future of Urban Planning: The Urban Skyfarm

urban-skyfarm-9The world’s population is projected to grow to between 9 and 10 billion people by the middle of the century. What’s more, roughly two-thirds of those people are expected to live in major cities. Coupled with the expected changes caused by Climate Change (i.e. increased drought and less in the way of arable land), and its understandable why urban farms are seen as a means of picking up the slack.

That’s the concept behind the Urban Skyfarm, a concept for a skyscraper that is shaped like a tree and comes with leaf-like decks to provide space for real trees to grow. Currently, most vertical farming operations – like warehouses in Chicago, Kyoto, Singapore and a recent skyscraper built in Sweden by Plantagon – grow plants with ultra-high-efficiency systems under artificial light.

urban-skyfarm-2However, this new design concept from Aprilli Design Studio takes a different approach, using lightweight decks to provide growing space outdoors on the sides of a giant skyscraper. The architects aren’t the first to embrace the trend of sticking greenery on towers, but they may be one of the first to look at how to use the technique to maximize food production. As architects Steve Lee and See Yoon Park explained:

Our version of the vertical farm was intended to become an independent, open-to-air structure which would be purely focusing on farming activities and sustainable functions such as generating renewable energy and performing air, and water filtration.

Designed to mimic the shape of an enormous tree, the Urban Skyfarm uses leaf-like decks to provide 24 acres of space for growing fruit trees and plants. The “trunk” houses an indoor hydroponic farm for greens, and solar panels and wind turbines at the top of the tower provide enough energy to power the whole operation. The design would also capture rainwater and filter it through a constructed wetland before returning it to a nearby stream.

urban-skyfarm-5So in addition to growing food and using rainwater to provide irrigation, the building also was also designed with an eye towards energy independence. The architects envision the project in the middle of downtown Seoul, South Korea:

It seemed to be an ideal place to test out our prototype since the specific area is very dense and highly active and has been suffering for a long time by all sorts of environmental problems resulting from rapid urbanization…With the support of hydroponic farming technology, the space could efficiently host more than 5,000 fruit trees. Vertical farming is more than an issue of economical feasibility, since it can provide more trees than average urban parks, helping resolve urban environmental issues such as air pollution, water run-off and heat island effects, and bringing back balance to the urban ecology.

The design would also provide community gardens, park space, and a farmers market to cater to a demand for fresh, local food in a city where apples can cost more than $20 at local markets.

urban-skyfarm-7Vertical farming has already started in South Korea. Another project, based in Suwon, is growing food in a three-story building and may eventually expand into a skyscraper. But the outdoor vertical farm is just a concept for now. Lee and Park are confident this is the way of the future, and that demand for clean, sustainable buildings that grow fresh food is only going to increase:

We believe there will be more attention and discussions of vertical farms as the 2015 Milan Expo approaches, and we hope the Urban Skyfarm can become part of the discussion as a prototype proposal. Vertical farming really is not only a great solution to future food shortage problems but a great strategy to address many environmental problems resulting from urbanization.

And with the problems of urban growth and diminished farmland occurring all over the developed world – but especially in nations like China, Indonesia, the Philippines, and India (which are likely to be the hardest hit by Climate Change) – innovative designs that combine sustainability and urban farming are likely to become all the rage all over the world.

Source: fastcoexist.com

North Korea’s Video Game Propaganda

nkvideogamesIt’s no secret that North Korea uses all means at its disposal to indoctrinate its citizens to share the same world view. Intrinsic to this is the idea that the West is evil, South Koreans are their pawns, and that the north is bastion of “proletarian freedom” that must triumph over them all. Even if it does find itself cornered, embargoed, run by loons, and wasting most of its GDP on displays of nuclear might.

And on tool which is coming to light is the use of cartoonish-style violent video games. Unlike the military parades and the cult of the leader, these are by comparison a bit crude. Actually, they are very crude, and will no doubt remind most westerns of their Nintendo or Sega gaming system, with a few exceptions where flash media games are concerned. But overall, the point is clear: when it comes to video games, North Korea is seriously behind the times!

uriminzokki-posterFor starters, there is Uriminzokkiri, a web portal that pushes North Korean propaganda from the country’s central news agency. It’s based in China, but is apparently controlled from the North Korean capitol of Pyongyang. So basically, the government was forced to outsource its web-based needs to a neighboring country that is ostensibly allied and far more advanced. A tell-tale sign for sure!

In any case, on Uriminzokkiri, there are a handful of flash games you can play on your computer. Some examples include “Treasure Key”, where the player navigates a crudely animated maze and is forced to deal with enemies such as George W. Bush (rendered as a rat) and Japanese politicians who are his monkeys. The ultimate goal is to collect all the keys and in so doing, unify Korea.

Then there is “Hang A Traitor”, where players attempt to hang a noose around the moving icon of South Korean conservative politician Lee Hoi-chang. That is rivaled by “Beating Up Rat LMB”, where players get to beat up the image of the current South Korean president, Lee Myung-bak, apparently to death!  And that’s all topped off with games like “Fly Swatting” and “Hitting South Korean Politicians”, where players simply swat of hit (whack-a-mole style) images of South Korean politicians and George W. Bush.

twominuteshateI’m put in mind of the Two Minutes of Hate. Anybody else getting that vibe? What’s more, I’m wondering how often they choose to update these games. Are North Korea’s authorities aware that Dubya hasn’t been president for four blessed years? And of course, there’s the pathos I feel for all those souls who are forced to live in this kind of environment, where hate is fostered and the means used to do so are so very crude, ugly and transparent.

I look forward to the day when the last Stalinist regime on Earth joins its brethren on the ash heap of history and the people are permitted a look at how their southern cousins live. I also hope they have an easier transition that some of their Eastern European counterparts. But then again, after all they’ve endured, any change is likely to be painful!

Source: kotaku.com