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Skelex: Enhancing human potential through high-tech exoskeletons

Skelex: Enhancing human potential through high-tech exoskeletons

Dutch startup Skelex designs exoskeletons to protect industrial workers and enhance their capabilities. In collaboration with Enel, they have developed a pilot project focused on maintaining energy grids.


When typing "robots are going to take our jobs" in Google, the search engine yields 74.2 million results. If, on the other hand, you type "robots are going to empower our jobs", that number falls to 23.9 million searches.

This quick comparison offers a glimpse into how society perceives these technological advances. For years we have been hearing about this dystopian future: machines are going to eliminate jobs and are going to leave people without a way of supporting themselves. But the truth is that robots have been integrated within the workforce since the First Industrial Revolution, making our work easier, safer and more efficient.

That is the approach taken by the startup Skelex—solutions that do not aspire to replace humans in a working environment, but to empower them through technology. "We identified two aspects: on the one hand, robotics won’t change every single job; on the other hand, many work activities can cause injuries to workers,” explains Gaurav Genani, founder of Skelex. “These two things together demonstrate the need to search for a solution that makes people stronger where they can add value, and technology is here to boost it." Their proposal is an exoskeleton specifically designed to help operators safely perform complex tasks at different heights, allowing them to surpass their human potential.


Flexible and adaptable technology

Ok, let's pretend robots are going to replace humans. Is technology truly ready for that? It was about seven years ago when Genani asked himself the same question. "I was at university researching and, together with my professor and my colleagues, we realized that, although there is a lot of interest in automation and robotics, the reality is that machines cannot do all human jobs," he notes. With this in mind they identified a gap in employee safety at work.

To improve this, Skelex, based in Rotterdam (Netherlands), produces upper-body exoskeletons for industrial workers with the aim of "improving their effectiveness in overhead work and boosting long-term health and safety." Ultimately, their objective is to support industrial workers, so they are "safer, stronger and less prone to work-related injuries."

Skelex technology is inspired by the healthcare industry. "The original exoskeleton comes from medical fields where these tools are used to helping people who have lost the ability to move or need to treat injuries. Here the purpose is completely different, we work with a more mechanical and engineering approach," Genani explains. For him, "simplicity makes the device more intuitive to use."


That simplicity and overall adaptability of their exoskeletons to the user's body shape is what makes their solution unique. "Industrial workers need to perform flexible movements of the entire body. That's why our exoskeletons adjust to this, allowing them to move their arms and the torso freely," Genani says. The Skelex exoskeletons are powered by FlexFrame Technology that supports biological movement of the shoulder joint and transfers weight to the lower body. This makes it possible for the structure to store and release energy in an intelligent manner to compensate for gravity and to ensure comfort as well as the long-term wellbeing of users. Currently, they offer two models, Skelex 360 and Skelex 360-XFR, a new version built for supreme durability.

But what do users think when they are using this technology? "People are quite surprised because it's a new feeling you have not felt before, but once they feel comfortable, they start looking to all the possibilities," Genani says. So, let's take a look at those possibilities.


A variety of down-to-earth applications

The technology is mainly used in automotive industries and in large-scale, high-tech production, but the entrepreneur predicts that in the next decade the focus will shift to the construction sector and other general jobs. "Electricians, plumbers and mechanics will be using this kind of product," he asserts. For example, in the construction industry, bricklayers work very hard during their shifts to build walls and create layers with different materials. For Genani, their exoskeleton can certainly be a solution.

For the Energy sector, Skelex and Enel developed a pilot to test their technology with operators who work on maintaining the electricity grid. "There are several risks regarding safety, such as heights and difficult positions that workers must manoeuvre through while carrying heavy tools and materials," Genani explains.


For the entrepreneur, "the feet on the ground support of Enel's team, all the feedback and all the data that we collected (more than 300 hours of data) really helped us to conduct the pilot and create solid evidence for our technology. It was one of the best pilots we have done so far, thanks to the dedication of everyone who was involved."

The professional relationship between Enel and Skelex began in 2019, when the solution was identified by Enel’s European Innovation Hub and has been the relationship has been instrumental for the startup. "We were contacted and informed about a challenge that wanted to improve the working conditions of people," Genani says. He highlights that they really valued that "the challenge was specific, it was very clear the gap Enel wanted to fill." After this, they started to work with Luca di Stefano. "So far the technology has performed great. Now, we are using this as a basis to create a deployment for Enel’s long-term use," Genani adds.

Genani argues that "innovation is to fill a gap in society where people do not realize there is one." Skelex continues to be inspired and keeps looking toward the future. They continue to push the boundaries and think about how to address shared challenges and improve their exoskeletons to make them more value-driven, versatile and adaptable in the same way people and society have done since the pandemic began. With the help of this technology and human inspiration and collaboration, we can create jobs that not only amplify human potential, but also increase the safety of our employees around the world.