Exoskeletons have the potential to improve the daily lives of many people. Dr. Andreas Argubi-Wollesen (Biomechanics and Movement Science) from ExoIQ explains how the company develops its exoskeletons, what challenges this brings, and how the technology can change the way we work in the future.
There are active and passive exoskeletons, can you briefly discuss the difference?
Exoskeletons reduce physical workplace stresses by reducing the muscle forces required for activities. Depending on their design, they can also redirect some of the load impact from more sensitive body regions to stronger body regions. In this respect, passive and active exoskeletons are similar. Passive exoskeletons use spring elements such as elastic bands or gas springs to provide support, for example when lifting the arms. However, the energy absorbed must be generated again in the opposite direction by human movement, for example by actively lowering the arms.
Active exoskeletons have drives with their own energy sources such as rechargeable batteries, which means they do not rely on the user's strength. Passive exoskeletons offer less support, but are often lighter. Active exoskeletons are more flexible in adapting to different work profiles, such as changes in direction of motion, strength, and deployment.
What are the challenges in developing and using exoskeletons?
As a developer, it is essential to analyze the stressful activities. To do this, we interview employees about their experiences and supplement them with data from our biomechanical workplace analyses. We determine how the exoskeleton can intervene in a supportive manner in the interaction between people and the work environment. This allows us to develop a product that best combines the required support with the necessary freedom of movement. This process makes it clear that exoskeletons always address a specific area of activity. We advise our customers on which type of exoskeleton is suitable for their work processes. Subsequently, the exoskeleton can be tested for its usability and acceptance at the respective workplace together with the staff.
How will exoskeletons change the future world of work?
Where physically challenging jobs persist, exoskeletons will become a permanent fixture. In the future, the digital linking of exoskeletons with production systems could, for example, adapt the performance of exoskeletons directly to the goods to be handled - which would provide additional relief for the employees. The sensor technology installed in exoskeletons makes the ergonomic challenges at the workplaces as well as the support potential of the exoskeletons transparent for occupational physicians and ergonomists. On this basis, the strain on employees can be minimized. We have laid the foundation for this with the active exoskeleton S700.