Workplace injuries cost European societies up to 4% of GNP. Over 25% of Europeans experience back injury due to work. Robots are traditionally inflexible to use for many manual handling tasks. The world robotics market is set to double to $66Bn pa in the next 15 years. Europe could corner the industrial collaborative human-robotic part of that market (currently Asia). The goal of Robo-Mate is to apply an industry focus in developing a user-friendly intelligent cooperative light weight wearable human-robotic exoskeleton for manual handling work. It will be deployable within half a day and will not require task specific programming. Robo-Mate will be highly flexible and used directly in craft or mass production or in auxiliary processes. Robo-Mate uses an iterative innovation process where design specifications are driven by industry requirements with a “needs pull” rather than a “technology push” approach. In use workers will “pilot” the device. Direct physical interaction using haptic technologies will be combined with perception enhancement using cognitive science programming paradigms to drive the exoskeleton. Pilot implementation of Robo-Mate will take on two forms: The first will focus on manual handling in automobile manufacturing at CRF/Fiat and by the automotive supplier COMPA, the second will focus on heavy manipulation tasks during end-of-life dismantling and maintenance at INDRA. GUEDEL will verify the Robo-Mate design for assembly issues.
The Robo-Mate consortium comprises 12 partners from 7 countries, including end-users from the automotive and dismantling industries, industrial robotics/technology developers, a robotics integrator and ergonomics research groups.
Benefits of Robo-Mate will be realised at European level through a stronger industrial robotics industry, at societal level through increased employment, at company level with increased productivity, and at citizen level with reduced back injuries. Results will be used in standards benchmarking.
A step ahead
The most important word here is ‘modular’. Unlike any other industrial exoskeleton concept, Robo-Mate consists of four different modules that can either be combined or used as a stand-alone support technology. These include a trunk module that applies a supportive force to the worker’s hips and upper body reducing compression forces in the lower back by up to 25 %; a passive arms module providing a constant lift to the worker’s arms to handle constant loads; an active arms module providing a variable lift for pick and place tasks; and a human-machine interface (HMI) module to help workers interact with the exoskeleton or display assembly instructions.
‘There are two unique aspects of Robo-Mate: One is the construction of the passive arm module. Unlike other passive arms, it provides a constant lift no matter where your hands are and without any heavy motors and batteries. The second aspect is our modular concept: We have seen that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to the problem of heavy object handling. By providing different modules, we allow industry to select the one module or the combination of modules that is best to perform a given task.
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