To anyone who's been keeping up with LG, this will come as no surprise. The company has been making a number of investments in the robotics space for some time now and we've been waiting to see how they'd materialise.
Luckily, we got to see a working prototype of its latest robotics project, the CLOi SuitBot, at IFA 2018. It's the latest example of how LG has been putting its robotics investments and AI technology to good use, as well as the company's first foray into the world of human-centric robotics.
What's a wearable robot?
The ambitious, wearable CLOi SuitBot may look like it could turn anyone into RoboCop, but its primary application for now is to enhance a user's leg movements.
There are plenty of reasons why someone would want this tech, but the primary reason is so workers can lift heavier objects and undertake tasks they wouldn't normally be able to handle on their own.
It's essentially a pair of wearable, robotic pants designed to supercharge your legs and an example of exoskeleton robotics.
The LG CLOi SuitBot was developed in collaboration with SG ROBOTICS, a company which LG invested in last year, which develops robotics to help people overcome limitations of their body, whether that's down to disability or to help out at work.
The SuitBot has LG's artificial intelligence built-in. That means it can evolve and learn over time, analyzing biometric data and the movements of the wearer in order to provide maximum efficiency.
Although many consumers would love to try it on and become Iron Man, LG says the product is most likely to find a home in logistics, manufacturing and distribution industries, as well as obvious applications in the healthcare sector.
At the LG press conference at IFA, LG's CTO Dr IP. Park said:
“Now we start with helping those who find it difficult to walk, but these robots could also find industrial applications where they improve productivity, monitor performance and prevent injuries.”
Building a robot workforce
Although the SuitBot could certainly be implemented in factories, or even at hospitals for rehabilitation purposes, all on its own, it's designed to work alongside LG's other service robots to develop a smart working network powered by AI.
The company already unveiled a number of service robots in January, including a guide robot to show people around airports and other public spaces, a cleaning robot to, well, clean and Serving Robot, to bring people food and tools, which wears a cute bowtie.
According to LG, the SuitBot will be able to connect up with all of them, allowing users to create a network of helpful robots to hopefully make a number of industries much more efficient in the future with the help of AI.
Wearable robots, exoskeletons and RoboCop suits
Although LG's CLOi SuitBot may seem revolutionary, it's the latest example of exoskeleton robotics. There's been a long line of different AI companies creating similar wearable robots, exoskeleton robot shells and RoboCop-style suits.
Exosuits aren't new, especially in the world of military research. Back in 2015, we covered news that the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) had been working on a high-tech suit takes some of the strain from soldiers' waist and legs, which means they can carry heavier loads for a longer time without collapsing in an exhausted heap at the end of the journey.
Tech companies have also been working on similar tech. Hyundai designed a robotic exoskeleton back in 2016. Like LG's SuitBot, the robotic frame was designed primarily for work use, moving heavy or hazardous materials while minimizing injuries, especially in the worker's hip and knees.
Although robotic exoskeletons aren't new, LG's plans to connect the SuitBot up to other robots makes it a more appealing prospect, as does the company's promises that the way the suit moves is not just super efficient, but the most natural and effective once strapped to an over-worked human.
- IFA 2018 is Europe's biggest tech show. The TechRadar team is in Berlin to bring you all the breaking news and hands-on first impressions of new phones, watches and other tech as they're announced.
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Becca is a contributor to TechRadar, a freelance journalist and author. She’s been writing about consumer tech and popular science for more than ten years, covering all kinds of topics, including why robots have eyes and whether we’ll experience the overview effect one day. She’s particularly interested in VR/AR, wearables, digital health, space tech and chatting to experts and academics about the future. She’s contributed to TechRadar, T3, Wired, New Scientist, The Guardian, Inverse and many more. Her first book, Screen Time, came out in January 2021 with Bonnier Books. She loves science-fiction, brutalist architecture, and spending too much time floating through space in virtual reality.