Ergonomics done right.®
April 13th, 2020

Q & A with Exoskeleton Expert Jean Theurel

Since the WearRAcon 20 conference went virtual due to COVID-19, I missed meeting exoskeleton researchers in person. In my quest to learn what’s new in field, I reached out to a handful (see below for past interviews). Today, let me introduce you to Dr. Jean Theurel from the National Institute for Research and Security (INRS).

Q1:  What sparked your interest in wearable technology and exoskeletons?
A1: With a scientific background in exercise physiology and biomechanics, I have focused my research on occupational health. Despite the developments of modern technologies (automation, cobots), we’ve found that many work activities still expose individuals to considerable biomechanical strains and can increase their risk of developing musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). Wearable technologies and exoskeletons offer a hew hope to hardworking women and men.

Q2: Of all the contributions in the wearable technology and exoskeleton field, what do you feel is the most significant?
A2: That’s a difficult question to answer since research is in its infancy. The real impact of using occupational exoskeletons to reduce the risks of MSDs remains, to a large extent, unknown. Technologies evolve extremely quickly, and it will mature in the next few years.

Q3: What contribution has yet to receive the accolades it deserves?
A3. Today, attention is given to active and passive (mechanically designed) exoskeletons. But, we found that exosuits (textile-designed) involve interesting benefits, such as reductions in muscular effort, in a great number of tasks. They are designed based on people’s anthropometry—the soft suit fits the person better. To my mind, these technologies have not received the attention they deserve.

Q4: What excites you most about the potential of wearables and exoskeletons in the workplace?
A4. Many researchers and practitioners are now focusing on exoskeletons and are testing them daily. We see an emergence of hand exoskeletons, light activities technologies, and a change in the materials used to make them. Knowledge is growing. The future will be exciting!

Read my past interviews:

  • Thomas Sugargot interested in the field when he started developing systems for stroke rehabilitation.
  • Daniel Ferriswas inspired by reading comic books as a kid, specifically when Iron Man and Dr. Doom matched their robotic exoskeletons against each other.
  • Karl Zelik used to test the limits of the human body as a kid. Unfortunately, he ended up with broken bones and quite a few stitches. When he discovered biomechanics as an adult, he was hooked.
  • Maury Nussbaum was asked to assess a new contraption in 2012. The results of the project led to one of the first papers on occupational exoskeletons.