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Pain-free through the working day

Many people are familiar with pain in the neck, shoulder and back area and artificial words such as "Konaschu" characterize the commercials on the radio. For a particularly affected group, research is being conducted at the University of Innsbruck to find a solution to this problem.

Working with their hands above their heads all day long is routine for many workers, e.g. when repairing the underside of cars. Shoulder pain is the logical consequence, explains Benjamin Reimeir from the University of Innsbruck. The human body is simply not evolutionarily designed to hold its arms up for eight hours a day for years on end.
One approach to a solution, which Reimeir and his colleague Lennart Ralfs, among others, are researching, are so-called Exoskeletons. These support users in their work by making certain movements or holding certain positions easier, as Ralfs explains. While the goal is not to lift supernaturally heavy loads with an exoskeleton, he says, "exoskeletons are often used for mistakenly called >>towable forklift truck<< Becoming."

With the power of air

Exoskeletons work via various mechanisms. The device on which Ralfs is conducting his research is called "Lucy" and specifically supports its users in lifting and stabilizing their arms overhead. To do this, it uses a pneumatic control, i.e. it operates by means of air pressure. Other models use electric motors, hydraulics or spring systems.

What they all have in common, according to Ralfs, "is that the user always has system sovereignty." The exoskeleton follows and facilitates human movements, he says, but it cannot take control of human movements.

Simulations in the motion laboratory

In order to Effects of the exoskeleton to investigate the ergonomics of movement and the strain on the musculoskeletal system, researchers at the University of Innsbruck have set up a course in their movement laboratory that can be used to simulate various industrial activities. For example, a plug-in device and a piece of garden hose are used to simulate the connection of cable harnesses in the automotive industry. The test subjects then perform the movements a few times with and without the exoskeleton. At the same time, they are filmed by nine infrared cameras that record the movements three-dimensionally, and electrodes stuck to the skin are used to measure the intensity with which the muscles are tensed.

The exoskeleton "Lucy" is still a prototype and purely a research object, but the scientists' findings could make life easier for many workers.

Exoskeletons: Pain-free through the working day - Innsbruck ( (10.11.2022)

Tom Illauer

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