Photo Credit: Hyundai Inc.

At the recent Consumer Electronic Show in Las Vegas, Korean car manufacturer Hyundai unveiled three battery-powered Iron Man-inspired robotic suits. Though the stylish exoskeletons developed as part of the company’s “Next Mobility” initiative, will not enable users to soar in the skies like the superhero, it will give them earthly “super powers” like mobility, strength, and endurance.

The Hyundai Medical Exoskeleton (H-MEX) provides mobility to people with paraplegia. The suit wraps around user’s body like a glove. The lightweight legs lock in place at the hips and knees. The upper body, which straps around the waist, is attached to a metal backpack-like contraption that houses the batteries and some of the controls. Users are provided with crutches that help with balance and movement via four thumb buttons.

Hyundai exoskeletons (Photo Credit: Hyundai)

To move forward, the user leans his or her weight alternatively on each foot and the corresponding crutch and then taps the appropriate button. Another button brings both legs in line allowing the wearer to stand upright, while a fourth one enables him or her to sit down or stand up. The company says the H-MEX battery can last for up to four hours before it needs to be recharged. Once accustomed to the suit, users can walk at speeds of up to 1.5 mph. Though that may not seem like much to a healthy person, it is akin to flying for people with spinal injuries. While the primary purpose of the H-MEX is to enable paraplegics to walk again, Hyundai believes it could also be used by the elderly and those undergoing physical rehabilitation.

The Hyundai Universal Medical Assistant (HUMA) is similar to the H-MEX except it is designed to provide assistive torque to those with limited muscular power. Users can adjust the amount of mobility support they need depending on whether they are walking, running, or climbing stairs, to help them move around effortlessly. Hyundai believes that the exoskeleton, which supports up to 40 kg (88 pounds) of the user’s weight, would be beneficial for the military and industries where heavy loads have to be carried over long distances.

Hyundai Waist Exoskeleton (Photo Credit: Hyundai)

The Hyundai Waist Exoskeleton (H-WEX) provides safety in the workplace. Activating the waist function allows the wearer to lift up to 110 pounds without causing any stress to the body. Hyundai envisions the H-WEX will be useful in manufacturing plants where it will help increase productivity and reduce back injuries caused by repetitive manual work or lifting of heavy loads.

So what led the car manufacturer to build robotic suits? Hyundai says the mechanics are similar to building self-driving cars which the company is currently prototyping as well. In autonomous vehicles, robotics is responsible for figuring out how to best navigate the vehicle in the given road network, whereas in the case of these suits, the sensors are more focused on increasing the mobility of the user within a particular location.

Hyundai Exoskeletons (Photo Credit: Hyundai)

Hyundai is not the first to create exoskeletons. Companies like Rewalk have been doing it for many years. However, the robotic suits are bulky and cumbersome to use and cost an astronomical $40,000 to $80,000 USD. Though Hyundai has not revealed the prices of their lightweight suits, the company has hinted that they will be a lot more affordable. We sure hope so!