The Robo-Mate exoskeleton supports the body to reduce the risk of strain and injury while carrying out repetitive tasks in an industrial environment. Matthew Stock reports.
With each bend and lift, this exoskeleton is sending powered support to the wearer's lower back... ...making lifting easier on the body. Developed at the Italian Institute of Technology, Robo-Mate won't give you superhuman strength. But it will remove some of the strain of repetitive lifting and handling of items up to about 15 kg. SOUNDBITE (English) JESUS ORTIZ, RESEARCH TECHNOLOGIST AT ITALIAN INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY, SAYING: "The system is providing assistive torque that is proportional to the angle of the user. It means the more forward the user is bending, the more assistive torque it is providing. We measure this using an accelerometer that is something similar to what we can find in normal mobile phones but this is a higher quality version." The EU-funded project brings together engineers from 7 European countries. Two other prototypes provide assistive support to the arms. Here in Genoa they've built a trunk module to reduce loads to the lower back. It helps maintain good posture and control, even when performing more dextrous tasks. SOUNDBITE (English) JESUS ORTIZ, RESEARCH TECHNOLOGIST AT ITALIAN INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY, SAYING: "The kind of weight we are targeting is between five and 15 kilograms, that is a medium weight. But if a user needs to repeat this movement a lot of times, lifting these small weights a lot of times during the day, this means a lot of stress for the body." The system has been successfully tested in both lab and industrial environments, such as this car recycling plant. It's now in the process of being licensed for commercial use. The EU says musculo-skeletal disorders affect millions of workers and cost employers billions of euros each year. Robo-Mate could provide an answer... and a weight off the shoulders for workers.