Who would’ve thought that in a quiet backyard in the 15th district of Vienna, there is a high-tech startup building feather-light support aids to help the human body during work. Richard Zlabinger is a pensioner and specialist in the field of technical drawing and is now helping the young startup. They found each other via the online job platform WisR.
John Bernhardt is an expert in robotics. He wrote his Master’s thesis on the subject at Harvard University and has been working with exoskeletons for some time. “Most people are familiar with exoskeletons from science fiction films such as Aliens,” smiles the Viennese with Russian roots.
Together with Veronika Pauser, John founded Exomys - Augmented Humanity GmbH in December 2018 to develop different types of modern support aids with an intergenerational team. One of the models, like the Powerloader from Aliens, helps to lift heavy loads, but John’s model is not so unwieldy.
“The special thing about our products is that they function mechanically, i.e. without a motor, electricity, or batteries,” says John. For John, the advantage is obvious: “This saves us a lot of extra weight and the need for expensive motors. John can’t tell how much Exomys’ exoskeletons will cost, but he stresses that they “will cost only a tenth of current exoskeleton prices”.
Another unique feature: the exoskeletons are small and light enough to fit under clothing. At the end of the day, they should support work, not hinder it.
John and his team are currently working on two different models, both of which are intended to relieve the strain of heavy physical work, e.g. on the assembly line or in logistics. The exoskeletons are developed with orthopedics in mind and serve to prevent injuries during heavy lifting or repetitive work.
“Our target groups are construction companies, the automotive industry, and logistics companies where either a lot of work is done on the assembly line or with heavy loads. 80% of construction workers retire early,” says John.
“Silver Ager” Richard Zlabinger came to the young startup with his professional competencies at the right time. He brings with him the experience that a high-tech startup needs. Even if many skills are theory-based and can be perfectly applied in the computer, things can sometimes fail due to a lack of practical experience.
Richard particularly emphasizes his expertise in the field of composite technology. “The exoskeletons are made of coated carbon. I have hands-on experience with these materials. A few years ago, I built a 15-meter-long yacht and sailed it from Vienna to Dubrovnik,” says Richard proudly.
His WisR CV is proof of his professional capabilities. He worked in process control at Siemens Austria, was a sales manager for TIXO in Africa, and worked as a plant manager for Steyr in Nigeria - and that’s just a small excerpt from his career.
Richard, like many retired people who are also looking for a job, registered with WisR: “So that I don’t end up in a mental and physical vacuum in my retirement. I also work on various technical projects and play sports. When he retired, Richard was looking for a mental challenge.
The fact that a startup sometimes works differently than a large corporation doesn’t bother Richard at all: “Everyone does everything in a startup,” laughs the likeable pensioner in his 70’s, winking at John in the process. He replied relieved: “We were looking for the proverbial jack of all trades and we found him!
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