6th June 2023
It’s the turn of the HUNIC SoftExo Lift as we continue our comprehensive run-through of all the IFOY Award finalists ahead of the announcement ceremony in Dortmund on June 22nd.
Category: Start-up of the Year
IFOY Test Report
The passive exoskeleton SoftExo is an extremely lightweight but still effective body-worn lifting and carrying aid, developed for logistics and industry. Skilled personnel are supported with up to 21% when lifting and carrying loads, the body is relieved by up to 50% and the ergonomic posture is positively influenced.
High and prolonged strains, for example due to repeated lifting of heavy objects, pose a health risk for employees in production and logistics, which in the worst case can lead to an inability to work. According to the German Trade Association, every tenth day of incapacity to work in Germany is due to back pain.
This is precisely where the assistance system from HUNIC can provide preventive relief. The passive exoskeleton uses a spring principle to support the leg and back muscles when lifting loads and sensitises the user to ergonomic movement. Due to the adjustment options, the system can be worn by persons weighing from 50kg to 140kg, regardless of gender. In addition, all modules can be easily exchanged, cleaned in the washing machine and easily replaced when worn out. By optimising the working posture, the forces acting on the back are reduced by up to 50% and distributed evenly. In this way, the SoftExo Lift permanently relieves and protects the wearer’s spine, joints and muscles.
In addition, the tension of the leg support gives up to 21% more strength when lifting. Wearing the SoftExo Lift also improves the individual’s lifting and carrying technique, so that a lasting effect can be observed beyond the everyday working day. Users tire less and thus make fewer picking errors at the end of the shift.
With the help of the patented back rail, the spine is completely decoupled from additional load. No tensile forces are placed on the shoulder, causing additional strain on the intervertebral discs. The back splint also provides the user with haptic feedback if he or she slips into a hunched back or excessive twisting of the lower lumbar sector. Consequently, the user resumes an ergonomic posture. The user’s body is thus loaded according to anatomical ideals. Due to the integration of the knee joints, they are guided and supported by the laterally passing ligaments when squatting down. The enclosure of the sensitive joint avoids pressure points on the user’s thigh.
The SoftExo Lift by HUNIC does not require any external energy source, which thus excludes subconscious overloading of the human body. Due to the use of high-tech materials, the exoskeleton weighs only 1.4kg. At the same time, it lies close to the wearer’s body, which reduces the risk of collision with the environment.
IFOY test verdict: The SoftExo Lift permanently relieves and protects the user’s spine, joints and muscles. Wearing the exoskeleton from HUNIC on a regular basis sustainably improves the individual working posture towards an ergonomically more favourable posture. This creates the conditions for more comfortable work and ultimately for a better quality of life. Especially towards the end of the work shift, a reduced fatigue of the users can be observed. Due to reduced downtime and more motivated employees, the company gains an economic advantage. Consequently, the investment of €1,000 per exoskeleton is well worth it.
IFOY Innovation Check
Market relevance: The topic of exoskeletons or ergonomic body support is becoming increasingly important to continue to be able to work responsibly with people in industrial and commercial environments, even in times of significant demographic change. Humans still have superior capabilities compared to automated technology in certain areas and activities, which can be brought to greater efficiency and productivity at high quality with technological support. Nevertheless, the fields of application of exoskeletons are still manageable so far.
Customer benefit: The deliberate conversion to a support instrument that is easy to wear and less annoying significantly increases acceptance. By consciously pointing out incorrect movements through the product, physical overloads and thus damage are avoided at an early stage. An increase in performance is often the result. The adaptation of the product to different areas of activity allows targeted use and thus the optimization of very specific physical activities.
Novelty / Innovation: It is a completely passive exoskeleton that also has few solid areas that would negatively affect wearing comfort and thus be detrimental to acceptance. The very great innovative leap therefore lies on the one hand in the design of the exoskeleton from purely soft, elastic materials, without neglecting the support function. Furthermore, it is the targeted pointing out and thus prevention of incorrect movements. In addition, the exoskeleton is prepared to accept sensors (e.g. from the IFOY nominee Predimo) for process monitoring and optimisation, for movement optimisation and for increasing occupational safety.
Functionality / Type of implementation: The exoskeleton is of very high quality. As mentioned, the focus is on high wearing comfort and thus acceptance by the user. Through the connection with sensor technology, it allows a significant optimisation of processes towards more safety and health in the future. Particularly noteworthy are the different versions for different activities with adapted, very intelligent features.
Verdict: This start-up takes up the exoskeleton theme, in a novel, soft version. Support for certain movements is available but is not the focus. Wearing comfort of the exoskeleton and especially showing wrong movement patterns are the focus. In addition, various features will be integrated for different sectors (e.g., a handle for patients in the nursing sector to support lifting. It will also be possible to attach sensors and evaluation units to the exoskeleton to implement optimisation and monitoring.
Market relevance Ø
Customer benefit +
Novelty / Innovation +
Functionality / Type of implementation +
[KEY: ++ very good / + good / Ø balanced / – less / — not available]
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