European researchers envision wearable exoskeleton for factory workers

Sept. 11, 2013 at 7:52 PM
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BRUSSELS, Sept. 11 (UPI) -- Seven European countries are involved in a project to test a robotic exoskeleton suit that can be worn by factory workers, European Union officials say.

The goal of the Robo-mate project, with $6 million in EU funding, is a machine that could reduce the number of workplace injuries, researchers said.

Twelve research institutions are taking part in the quest for a wearable robot suit that will help human workers take on manufacturing tasks that, because of the complexity of the choices involved, are difficult to fully automate.

"An exoskeleton with a human inside represents a new type of research for the manufacturing industry," Carmen Constantinescu from Germany's Fraunhofer Institute, one of the participating institutions, said.

"It offers a hybrid approach in which the robotic parts support the human who can provide the decisions and cognition needed."

The researchers acknowledged the challenge involved in teaming robotics with humans.

"At the minute the motors or hydraulic systems required tend to be rather large and clumsy," Darwin Caldwell of King's College London told the BBC. "What we have to do is find ways to miniaturize those.

"What we also have to remember is that an exoskeleton is essentially a robot in physical contact with a human.

"That raises safety issues so we will be looking at making the interaction between the two softer and more organic -- it won't be like having a large industrial robot which is dangerous," he said.

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