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Using exoskeletons to lighten the load for construction workers

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Category: research Video duration: Using exoskeletons to lighten the load for construction workers
Faculty and Ph.D. students in the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering are researching the effectiveness of exoskeletons in real-world construction applications with hopes of improving the quality of life for workers.
This job's not easy. You wake up feeling like you got hit by a car sometimes. I've been in it not quite a decade yet, but I still feel you still wake up some days and you're like, what happened? We got inspired to start to look at exoskeletons in construction, specifically because the construction trades tend to be very physically demanding, and construction workers are among those workers that have the highest rates of shoulder problems and back problems. Exoskeletons are wearable devices that hopefully mitigate the risks and stresses to say, your low back or to your upper arms while doing heavy lifting, while doing static bending. Other awkward postures that workers are exposed to. "You should feel less support down here and then ramping up as you lift." "Oh, yeah." We have like a couple of different exoskeletons which can be broadly categorized into two categories. One is arm support exoskeletons, and the second is back support exoskeletons. I'd say those are probably the two muscle groups that are getting strained every single day, five days a week, eight hours a day. When you're working in this kind of work, those are the two ones that you're going to use the most. Our testing has three main phases. The first phase was to talk to experts. We did actually a national survey with almost 200 people to get their inputs. What do they think? What do they like? What are they dislike? What are their needs? The second phase was to start testing in the lab, simulating some construction tasks for which an exoskeleton might be particularly useful. In the lab, we can get these technical measures. We can measure very precisely their postures, their motions, the activity of their muscles. The third phase of our work is to start doing field testing. Testing in the lab tells us something, but there's probably additional things we're going to learn when workers wear the technology doing their actual job. All our data so far indicates that yes, they should relieve the stresses these workers experience. But the real workplace is very different, moving around in a much more dynamic space than a small confined lab affords. We want to figure out what those new exposures are, what the new hurdles are, whether they worked better than expected, or maybe they have some depreciation in their performance. Does it reduce the risk of having a back injury or shoulder problems? We think so, and there's lots of suggestive evidence, but as yet, there's no direct evidence. But I do believe that evidence is coming and our project, other people's work around the world is helping to contribute to that evidence.