SBIR Phase I: Trunk-Supporting Exoskeleton System for Workers

Period of Performance: 01/01/2013 - 12/31/2013

$150K

Phase 1 SBIR

Recipient Firm

U. S. Bionics
2806 Ashby Avenue
Berkeley, CA 94705
Principal Investigator, Firm POC

Abstract

This Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase I project proposes a trunk-supporting exoskeleton that minimizes the forces on the wearer?s back at L5/S1 location during bending and reaching. These systems would decrease the severity and number of work-related back injuries while enhancing workers? safety. By using these devices, automobile assembly and distribution center workers can preserve their natural body postures when maneuvering parts and boxes, and thus substantially reduce the strain associated with such work. Consequently, the risk of back injuries will be greatly reduced in workers when using these devices. In turn, the national cost of treating back injuries will be greatly reduced. This project is in its infancy, but it has the potential to change the way workers maneuver boxes and parts in distribution centers and assembly plants. To accomplish this goal several technical challenges must be overcome. The objective is to conduct a set of orthopedics, ergonomics, and metabolic experiments not only to systematically characterize the system, but also use the experiments for redesign and fine tuning. The broader impact/commercial potential of this proposed research is to dramatically improve the quality of life for workers. The technologies proposed here will manifest in development of broad classes of exoskeleton devices for workers who repeatedly move light objects in factories, warehouses and distribution centers. This project will decrease the risk of back injuries due to repetitive maneuvers in warehouses, distribution centers, and auto assembly plants. This project will decrease compensation indemnity claims involving back injuries and increase availability of affordable assist systems for workers. The technological impact of this proposed research stems from the system integration approach to developing a class of assist devices customizable for a range of working environments. This effort involves the deep integration and convergence of mechanism design, ergonomics, orthopedics, and models for human spine.