Boudewijn Wisse is a dedicated engineer, entrepreneur and coach, that expresses these passions in business and sports (fencing). He has extensive experience in new business development in healthcare and health and safety industries. After founding and managing several businesses he now focusses on Laevo. Laevo develops exoskeletons for workers.
I’ve always wanted to help people. Help people doing their job better, to enjoy their lives and give it meaning and purpose. I’ve also always wanted to design products that have impact. That can be found in people’s daily life and environment. This is why I started my study industrial engineering and why I became an entrepreneur.
During my study, I’ve focussed on (bio)mechanics and personal development. Mechanics give the world a clockwork kind of sense, personal development give it a heart. They represent two relations between man and nature, that strongly influenced my choices. First to in harmony with life and nature. The second to engineer life, to control it, to make art and machines and have nature work for us. All things that I’ve undertaken can be interplay between these relations. Where engineering and products support and respectfully enhance persons, life and nature.
In 2005, I’m graduated on ‘the universal prosthesis’, a trans-tibial (leg) prosthesis design for landmine-victims in third world countries. I quickly concluded that “brain drain”, the lack of experts (prosthetists), not product-costs, is the main reason why these victims do not got insufficient care. I’ve designed a method and design that provides a good-fitted socket with limited expertise. A very nice concept, but the prosthetic market and I were not ready to launch this product.
Directly after my studies I started InteSpring. With InteSpring my colleagues and I designed many products that support people with springs. We started with the Balancebox, a flat wall-mount system that will balance TV’s and other applications. It’s a system that provides finger-touch high-low movement and allows for payload adjustment. Currently, this product is sold worldwide by our partner Thomas Regout (www.balancebox.eu). We’ve also designed tables, chairs and many other systems based on the same principle (counter-acting gravity with spring-systems). And so I met my current passion: exoskeletons.
Since 2010 I’ve been working on the Laevo, a wearable device that supports the user. It is our vision that exoskeletons are work tools and need to be just as easy to use. My team and I have some great achievements, both in engineering (innovative design, very light, CE-certification, etc) and in entrepreneurship (sold many products worldwide).
The Laevo back exoskeleton solves a real big problem: back pain. IT supports the upper body when bending forwards, e.g. working posture or lifting. Basically, the Laevo is a spring system that compensates the weight of the upper body and transfer that load past the back to the thighs. But more importantly, it is a device that allows thousands of people to enjoy their job in good health.
The design respects the human body: the human is in control of the movement and stabilizing the spine and we don’t take all the load and effort away. We just aim to make challenging and damaging jobs/tasks acceptable. Still it takes away up to 25% of the net moment on the back, up to 50% of the EMG / muscle activity and effort of the big back muscles and allows people to maintain their forward bended postures for 2 to 3 times longer.
We are not finished. We envision a whole range of exoskeletons that support people either ergonomically or enhance their capabilities and productivity. We believe wearing an exoskeleton becomes just as common sense for certain tasks as using an electronic drill or wearing safety shoes on the job. For this to happen, the added value for the user needs to (greatly) outweigh the costs (in money, time, obstruction, etc).
The Laevo does that for specific user groups. Our customers are innovation driven and with our latest designs, both management and floor workers are really enthusiastic testing the design. The good thing about our exoskeletons is that users in general immediately recognize and experience the benefit (“start doing your job”- “wow – that helps“). The freedom to move around with the Laevo is really nice. It supports bending and lifting, but also allows for side-way bending, twisting, walking, kneeling, etc. But to be used daily and for a long time, there are many small prerequisites that need to be met. For example, many of the order pickers appreciate the Laevo during lifting, but need to sit in the fork-lift-truck every hour or so. Even though the Laevo can be donned and doffed in seconds, taking it of more than 6 times per day really takes away the fun to work with the product. So I’m happy we now developed a Laevo that can be temporarily switched off so sitting is possible. We have tackled many of these small prerequisites in the latest versions of the product, but I’m certain we will have to keep improving the product in this sense for the coming time.
Basically, the product is now starting to be adopted more widely in logistics and automotive. We have sold hunderds of systems in these sectors and many of our first users have been using their Laevo on a daily basis for over a year now. But there are many other sectors where posture is a challenge and the Laevo is in principle a very good solution. So we expect some developments for specific sectors (healthcare, agri, etc) in the coming years.
And still we are only talking about posture support. Millions of workers can and will be reached with other exoskeletons in the coming years. We have great pleasure in design these tools and making sure the’ll have the impact they deserve.