Ergonomics done right.®
November 29th, 2018

Ergo U: Harvard University: Soft Exosuits and Sensors for Industrial Applications

In the 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. Ignacio Galiana from Hansjörg Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University. The focus of the meeting was to learn more about their next generation of soft exosuits and soft robotics gloves. When used, these devices can improve the capabilities of healthy individuals during industrial tasks (e.g., lifting, carrying, reaching).

Inspired by human biomechanics and anatomy, the innovative textiles of the exosuit transmits assistive forces to a wearer’s joints more comfortably than rigid external structures. As compared to a traditional exoskeleton, these unobtrusive systems have several advantages, including:

  • the wearer’s joints are unconstrained by external rigid structures.
  • they are extremely light.
  • there is less unintentional interference with the body’s natural biomechanics.

Also used in industry are soft robotic gloves. These assist people to control movement and lessen the impacts of forceful exertions.

Blake’s Take:The group at the Wyss Institute are focused on the development of user-friendly and functional soft exosuits and soft robotic gloves. The soft exosuits provide meaningful assistance, and a better user experience compared to hard exoskeletons. Someday, these will likely be part of a work uniform. The assistance sensors will be invisibly embedded in the fabric of a shirt or pants. Really cool stuff!”

“The soft robotic gloves can aid workers during industrial tasks that require forceful exertions. However, I am most excited about the potential opportunity for the gloves to capture hand and wrist kinematic (posture), kinetic (force), and temporal (duration and frequency) information simply and effortlessly. The sleek technology captures this information more quickly and accurately than expert risk assessors. This will be a game changer when evaluating musculoskeletal risk for hand intensive jobs, such as those seen in the pharmaceutical and medical device manufacturing environments.”

Expert: Dr. Galiana’s (PhD: Universidad Politécnica de Madrid) is the technical lead for a project to develop the next generation of soft wearable exosuits to augment human movement. His research and development goal is coming to fruition.