A Singapore team is creating innovative wearable exoskeletons that can take heavy loads off human workers – preventing injury while boosting performance.
Across the globe, work-related musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) are both common and costly. In the US, for example, data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics reveals that MSDs – characterised by injuries to joints, muscles, tendons and other soft tissues – are the single largest category of workplace injury. They are also responsible for almost 30 per cent of workers’ compensation costs every year.
It’s a similar story in most industrial settings everywhere, presenting a global challenge for industry that researchers at National University of Singapore (NUS) are determined to solve. Since 2020, an NUS team of engineers and computer scientists in the Department of Biomedical Engineering has been building two robotic exoskeletons with different target points – the back and shoulders. These powered mechanical frames wrap round workers’ backs and shoulders to help alleviate the physical stresses of heavy and repetitive work.
“Our shoulder and back devices can reduce muscle strain by 40 per cent in the lower back and shoulders when a worker lifts heavy objects, which can help to prevent injuries while also boosting performance,” explains team leader Professor Yu Haoyong. “Our technology is especially timely because with more societies facing the challenge of an ageing population, we need to start protecting our workers against injury when they are young.”