Musculoskeletal disorders are the most common form of workplace disability. For example, back injuries account for 32% of reported accidents. A single occurrence of a work related injury can costs more than 50,000€ per person/year (direct and indirect costs). Wearable assistive devices designed to reduce workers' physical efforts could considerably reduce the number of work-related injuries in industry.
The collaboration with INAIL (Italian Worker's Compensation Authority) within the project "Sistemi Cibernetici Collaborativi - Esoscheletro" fosters important developments in the area of industrial exoskeletons. The aim of this project is the development of a new generation of industrial exoskeletons for a wide variety of uses: automotive, manufacturing, maintenance, construction, agricultural, etc. The prototypes are being developed baed on User-Centred Design principles to ensure a complete integration with the industry, working in close collaboration with end users during all the design and development process.
During the project, several prototypes will be developed for the assistance of the lower body (lower back and knees) and upper body (shoulders and elbows). The use of one or more modules will be determined by the application. Typically manipulation of heavy objects or static bending position tasks would require assistance for the lower back, while overhead work with low-medium weights would require assistance for the arms. More complex tasks involving different movements, such as pushing or pulling, may require assistance of a combination of the joints mentioned above.
XoTrunk is a lightweight back-support exoskeleton desgined to provide assistance during lifting and static bending operations. It is an evolution of the final prototype of the Robo-Mate project, generally improved in all the areas, specially in weight, dimensions and performance.
The shoulder is one of the most complex joints of the human body, since its motion depends on several musculoskeletal structures. The study of these structures and their characteristic movement allowed us to design XoArms, a completely new system implementing a novel mechanism which is able to adapt to any typical movement of the operator during industrial tasks.
For a wide range of tasks a fully actuated exoskeleton might not be required, but a passive device would not provide enough flexibility. The FleXo module is being designed to provide a low to medium level of assistance similar to a passive device, but with the flexibility and adaptability of an active exoskeleton. The combination of adaptable structures with smart actuation mechanisms are the basis of this system.
In the current status of the project, each prototype works independently and targets a different application. With the combination of the three modules, the system could cover most of the tasks present in industry. The most representative applications of the proposed systems are:
- Manufacturing: Manual handling and assembly of low/medium weight components, asssembly of components in awkward postures, and overhead assembly operations.
- Maintenance: Replacement or manipulation of equipment in large scale installations.
- Food industry: Manual handling of goods during the food processing.
- Logistics: Manual handling and transportation of low/medium weights.
- Construction: Manual handling and transportation of low/medium weights, and operations in awkward postures.
- Farming: Operations in awkward postures, and lifting and transportation of low/medium weights.