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July 16, 2024

Korean robot startup aims to transform human walking

PUBLISHED : April 24, 2024 - 17:31

UPDATED : April 24, 2024 - 17:31

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WIRobotics CEO and Chief Technology Officer Kim Yong-jae speaks at a press conference in Seoul on Wednesday. (WIRobotics)

South Korean robotics startup WIRobotics aims to transform the walking experience via its award-winning wearable robot WIM, made lighter and more convenient for everyday use, the company's chief said Wednesday.

"We believe humans will be able to enhance walking and physical abilities with the assistance of the interactive robotics technology, and have thought wearable robots will be optimal," WIRobotics CEO and Chief Technology Officer Kim Yong-jae said at the press conference in Seoul.

WIM, a compact belt pack device with two arms that stick out to assist each leg, has been designed to enhance the gait abilities of users by reducing walking energy by 20 percent. According to Kim, WIM is special in that it has taken a new form factor to use only one actuator instead of two, making it one-third of the weight of rival products, at 1.6 kilograms.

"Wearable robots have been the subject of research for more than a decade, but there is not one commercial robot because it was difficult to make it light enough for everyday use. They were as light as 3-4 kilograms," Kim said.

"Our goal was to make a device that is less than 2 kilograms, convenient to wear and portable. Users can sit and drive while putting on WIM."

Kim also underscored that robotic assistance turns out to be two to four times more effective in enhancing gait performance than human training.

WIM facilitates artificial intelligence, and its special technology enables the device to identify the user's motion and the terrain they are on within 0.2 seconds. This helps make sure the device quickly changes its mode to properly assist the user's movement, Kim said. Typically, the device requires the user to take just one or two steps to identify whether they are walking on stairs or going down a hill.

WIM also offers deep analysis of the user's gait performance, gathering data including speed, balance, stability, agility and muscular strength to offer optimal consultations.

The company ran more than 400 case studies for the development of the device. In one study, users with an average age of 78.5 years and a gait performance rating of 70 years old on average showed improvement after four weeks of training with WIM, and their gait age lowered to 54 years old.

The wearable robot targets not only older people and patients who find difficulties with walking, but also those who want to boost their performance, such as firefighters, athletes and hikers.

Launching the product in February, the company sold its first batch of 300 units at a price of 3.2 million won ($2,330) each. This year, WIRobotics aims to sell at least 1,000 WIM units and achieve sales of 3 billion won, and then increase the sales volume to 10,000 units next year.

WIRobotics was established in June 2021 with four employees -- all former engineers at Samsung Electronics. The startup now has 23 employees and has received 17.6 billion won in investment.

Debuting the robot at the CES 2024 trade show in January this year, WIRobotics has received several inquiries from overseas buyers, and plans to tap into the US market this year, Kim added.

WIRobotics opened a WIM walking training center at Olympic Park in Seoul, where a walking track and various tools for physical exercise are prepared. With professional health care trainers and physical therapists present, visitors can receive consultations on their body training and optimal exercise experiences.

By Jo He-rim (herim@heraldcorp.com)
The Korea Herald

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