The WearRAcon 20 was one of the many conferences that went virtual due to COVID-19. As the Director of Research and a board-certified ergonomist for VelocityEHS, I was looking forward to attending the conference (in person) to meet with leaders in exoskeleton technology, watch robotic demonstrations, and learn how these devices are being used in industry to improve worker health and safety and improve productivity.
Now more than ever, we’re lucky to have advanced technologies. Even though we are all confined to our homes for the next month or so, we can still learn and engage with others. Though it is from afar and not the same as being together in one space, it works and will keep us connected during this crisis. In spirit of WearRAcon20, I connected online with a handful of experts in exoskeleton technology. Over the course of the next few weeks, I’ll share key points from each interview. A few days ago, I introduced you to Dr. Thomas Sugar, Professor in Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, The Polytechnic School, at Arizona State University. Read the interview.
Today, let me introduce you to Dr. Dan Ferris from the University of Florida. His research focuses on the biomechanics and neural control of human locomotion, with an emphasis on human-machine interactions (mechanically and electrically).
Q1: What sparked your interest in wearable technology and exoskeletons?
A1: Reading comic books as a kid was what drove my interest in wearable technology and exoskeletons. I loved the issue when Iron Man and Dr. Doom matched their robotic exoskeletons against each other.
Q2: Of all the contributions in the wearable technology and exoskeleton field, what do you feel is the most significant?
A2: That is a hard question to answer. I feel like we haven’t yet turned the corner on wearable technology and exoskeletons. The field is still in its infancy and hasn’t delivered on its considerable promises. When solid scientific evidence shows that they actually benefit human movement in everyday wear, then we can say that they have made a significant contribution.
Q3: What contribution has yet to receive the accolades it deserves?
A3: The development of passive or semi-passive wearable technologies that can lower the metabolic cost of walking or running is a tremendous achievement. To reduce the metabolic energy expenditure of normal human locomotion is really hard. Achieving it with minimal machine energy input is remarkable. Collins, S.H., Wiggin, M.B. and Sawicki, G.S., 2015. Reducing the energy cost of human walking using an unpowered exoskeleton. Nature, 522(7555), pp.212-215.Nasiri, R., Ahmadi, A. and Ahmadabadi, M.N., 2018. Reducing the energy cost of human running using an unpowered exoskeleton. IEEE Transactions on Neural Systems and Rehabilitation Engineering, 26(10), pp.2026-2032.
Q4: What excites you most about the potential of wearables and exoskeletons in the workplace?
A4: The future. There’s been a great increase in the number of scientists and engineers working on them and breakthroughs are made every year. Some include the ability of 3D printers to print stronger materials; new electromechanical actuators can deliver high power output; and new control approaches will all impact the next generation of devices.