Development of the AWN-02 Assist Suit Reduces the Physical Burden When Lifting and Lowering Heavy Loads

Sep 11, 2014

In cooperation with Tatsumi Shokai Co., Ltd. (Osaka, Japan), a comprehensive distribution company, ActiveLink Co., Ltd. (Nara, Japan), has developed the AWN-02 Assist Suit device ("AWN-02"), which reduces the physical burden on the user's body when lifting and lowering heavy loads in cargo handling, such as at distribution worksites.

  • 02_AssistSuit.jpg
    AWN-02 Assist Suit
  • 03_AssistSuit.jpg
    PLL-01 PowerLoader(TM) Light

ActiveLink was in charge of device development, and Tatsumi Shokai was in charge of evaluation and verification at the worksite. The AWN-02 is a test model including functionality inherited from the PowerLoader(TM) Light (PLL-01) for research, to assist with bending and extending the trunk of the user. With position sensors detecting the movements of the trunk, the AWN-02 operates motors at the lower back in accordance with the user's intended movements, thereby reducing the burden on the user's lower back when handling cargo.

The PLL-01 has motors placed at multiple locations, such as at the lower back, knees, and ankles, to assist with movements of the lower back, legs, and elsewhere. The PLL-01 was envisioned as an upper-body assist arm helping with heavy work and supporting a heavy cargo of 40 kg in total, and the issues to be tackled were the weight of the equipment and the cost. The newly developed AWN-02 is specialized to reduce the burden on the user's lower back and has achieved cost reductions by decreasing the number of motors to a total of two near the lower back at the left and right. With a substantially re-engineered design, the body is much lighter, weighing somewhat over 7 kg (excluding the battery). In addition, a newly developed algorithm automatically switches the operating mode to modes such as one to assist with lifting cargo or another to carry cargo while maintaining the upper body position, according to the posture or movement detected by the position sensors at the lower back. By tracking the operation, the assist mode of the AWN-02 changes, so the user does not need to operate any switches.

From the summer of last year, ActiveLink interviewed cargo handlers and performed verification testing at Osaka port distribution warehouses in cooperation with Tatsumi Shokai, thereby improving the functions of the AWN-02. The ideal lifting and lowering of cargo handling in a laboratory not only reduces the burden on the user's lower back but also exhibits a confirmed improvement in work efficiency.

Based on the development of this product, in the future we will advance with the development of applications in fields such as distribution, agriculture, and factories, which demand work efficiency, in addition to reducing the worker burden, and in FY2016 we intend to start mass production. In the field of agriculture, we will start verification testing with farmers in Fukui Prefecture in September 2014. This verification testing is supported by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries' FY2015 Advanced Model Agriculture Establishment and Verification Business in Cooperation with the Agriculture Industry and the Business Community.

We plan to sell the product through Mitsui & Co., Ltd., and Panasonic Corporation, and we are considering methods for widespread use in society, including rentals and leasing.

This device will also be displayed at the NEDO booth at Innovation Japan 2014, held Thursday, September 11 and Friday, September 12, 2014.

Main Capabilities of AWN-02 Assist Suit

  • Assumed operation: Loading and unloading of heavy items
  • Assist power: 15 kgf (two motors)
  • Operating time: About 150 minutes (one lithium ion battery)
  • Assist modes: three (lifting, semi-crouching posture maintained, and assist off (when walking))

About ActiveLink Co., Ltd.

Establishment: June 6, 2003
Representative: Hiromichi FUJIMOTO (Mr.), President and Representative Director
Capital: 224 million yen (Panasonic Corporation: 79.6%; Mitsui Co., Ltd.: 19.6%)
Business description:
Production and sales of power assist devices as well as contracted development and consulting for test models and products applying robot technology cultivated in the development of power assist devices

[History]
2003 Established under the Panasonic Spin-up Fund for intrapreneurship at Matsushita Electric
2004 Released a power assist suit using artificial rubber muscles
2006 Rehabilitation support suit chosen as best innovation by Time magazine
2008 Released the PowerLoader(TM) power assist device for carrying heavy loads
2010 Released the PowerLoader(TM) Light power assist device for carrying small heavy loads
2013 Cooperated in development and mass production of the ARM-1 agricultural support suit by Kubota Corporation
2013 Business collaboration and allocation of new third-party shares to Mitsui & Co., Ltd.
2014 Received a first-time Wonder Award in Panasonic Corporation's in-house awards program

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