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Integrating exosuit capabilities into clothing to make back relief accessible to workers unserved by existing exoskeletons: design and preliminary evaluation
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  • Derek Wolf ,
  • Chad Ice ,
  • Shimra Fine ,
  • Paul Slaughter ,
  • Katherine Rodzak ,
  • Karl Zelik
Derek Wolf
Vanderbilt University

Corresponding Author:[email protected]

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Shimra Fine
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Paul Slaughter
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Katherine Rodzak
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Karl Zelik
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Abstract

Background: Occupational exos (rigid exoskeletons and soft exosuits) are emerging technologies designed to reduce the risk of work-related musculoskeletal disorders. Existing occupational exos are standalone accessories worn on top of a user’s clothing.
Purpose: Our objective was to demonstrate that back-assist exosuit capabilities can be integrated into regular clothing, which could make musculoskeletal relief accessible to more workers.
Methods: We redesigned a previously validated accessory exosuit so it could integrate into a standard-issue U.S. Army uniform. The uniform-integrated exosuit prototype was low-profile (protruding <30 mm from the body), lightweight (adding 800 grams to the uniform), and could be donned/doffed like normal clothing. We demonstrated the functionality and feasibility of the prototype in lab testing (N=5) and in a case study (N=1) with a U.S. Army Soldier.
Results: In lab testing (N=5), this exosuit provided 18-27 Nm of torque about the low back during lifting. Assistance could be engaged or disengaged one-handed in about half a second, and the exosuit did not restrict a user’s natural range of motion or cause discomfort. A case study (N=1) with a Soldier performing operationally relevant tasks demonstrated that this type of uniform-integrated exosuit may be well-suited for workers with duties that involve driving in vehicles and intermittent lifting.
Conclusions: This work demonstrated that it was possible—after a substantial redesign of existing back exosuits—to integrate these capabilities into standard workwear with little change to the form factor, weight, range of motion, or comfort. This new sub-class of exosuit could be beneficial to workers who alternate between bending, lifting, and sitting tasks, or to those in customer- or patient-facing jobs where it is important for wearable technology to be discreet.
14 Dec 2023Submitted to TechRxiv
22 Dec 2023Published in TechRxiv