Ergo U: Harvard School of Engineering: Soft Exosuits
In the new series, Ergo U: Ergonomics Research Notes from the Field, Humantech ergonomist Blake McGowan meets with ergonomics researchers from leading universities and associations across the country to share their latest findings.
Field Notes: Recently, Blake had the opportunity to meet with Dr. Conor Walsh from the John A. Paulson Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences to learn more about the use of soft exoskeletons (exosuits) in the workplace. Since the article, “Wearable Exoskeletons to Reduce Physical Load at Work”, written by Brian Lowe, PhD, CPE, Research Industrial Engineer in the NIOSH Division of Applied Research and Technology, was posted by the NIOSH Science Blog, this topic has peaked a lot of interest in industry.
Exosuits, wearable powered machines, augment the capabilities of healthy individuals to perform work or movements that may be difficult to perform due to a physical or neurological disorder. As compared to a traditional exoskeleton, these soft exosuits have two advantages: 1) the wearer’s joints are free from external rigid structures, and 2) the suit is extremely light. These properties minimize the suit’s unintentional interference with the body’s natural biomechanics and allow for more synergistic interaction with the wearer.
Blake’s Take: “The resources and effort put into Dr. Walsh’s research is quite astounding, and the promise to provide these solutions in the workplace in the next ten years is impressive. For that to happen though, dozens of researchers from multi-disciplines (engineering, industrial design, and apparel), employed by Walsh, are challenged to resolve some design elements: reduce human energy expenditure requirements, tune the device to minimize muscle deconditioning and atrophy, and ensure the highest level of safety during industrial use. When resolved, an exosuit will be able to reduce external forces on the body during physically demanding jobs. That’s a pretty big benefit.”
About the Expert: Dr. Conor Walsh, M.S., PhD, Mechanical Engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, focuses on developing new disruptive robotic technologies for augmenting and restoring human performance. This research includes new approaches to the design, manufacture, and control of wearable robotic devices and characterizing their performance through biomechanical and physiological studies to further the scientific understanding of how humans interact with such machines.
Past Visit: Last month, Blake toured The Liberty Mutual Research Institute for Safety and the Center for Physical Ergonomics and saw where Drs. Stover Snook and Vincent Ciriello developed the psychophysical tables for lifting, lowering, pushing, pulling and carrying. For Blake’s take, read more.