Workshop at IEEE CASE 2024 – Bari, Puglia (Italy)
International Conference on Automation Science and Engineering

Industrial Exoskeletons: Market Demands, Open Challenges and Research Opportunities

September 1, 2024 – Full day workshop session
with 5 hours of presentations, 1 hour of group discussion, and 2 hours of live demonstrations

ALTAIR-logo-web-headline

Organizers and Advisors

Andrea Calanca – Associate Professor, University of Verona (Italy) – andrea.calanca@univr.it
Mohamed Irfan Refai – Assistant Professor, University of Twente (Netherlands) – m.i.mohamedrefai@utwente.nl
Francesco Pascucci – PhD Student, University of Verona (Italy) – francesco.pascucci_01@univr.it
Eldison Dimo – PhD Student, University of Verona (Italy) – eldison.dimo@univr.it

Paolo Fiorini – IEEE Fellow, University of Verona (Italy) – paolo.fiorini@univr.it
Massimo Sartori – Full Professor, University of Twente (Netherlands) – m.sartori@utwente.nl

Motivation and goals

Industrial exoskeletons have recently seen great developments, with dozens of devices literally invading the market. Robotic exoskeletons have the potential to protect musculoskeletal system from injury and to reduce the occurrence of chronic musculoskeletal disorders.

The explosion of industrial exoskeletons has seen a great variety of passive designs which use elastic components grounded to the human body to balance gravitational forces due to loads. Instead, active exoskeletons use powered actuators aiming at providing more versatile physical assistance. The main advantages of passive designs with respect to active ones are simplicity, wearability, lightweight and lower costs. However, these designs lack adaptability and need to change the assistance level manually. Due to these limitations active or hybrid devices start appearing on the market. Thanks to an efficient combination of passive and active elements, hybrid exoskeletons can preserve a certain lightweight, thanks to low power demand, while possibly providing highly adaptive solutions. However, maximizing the device’s wearability and inferring the optimal assistance are still open challenges.

The objective of this workshop is to shed light on existing challenges and possible solutions related to industrial exoskeletons. How is it possible to reduce the wearability gap between passive and active exoskeletons? What are the main challenges associated with active/hybrid devices from an industry perspective? How is it possible to reduce the perceived effects of reaction forces? What are the main causes of discomfort with existing technology? What is the user acceptance rate and how to improve it? How far are we from reaching a responsive, truly versatile, and natural robotic assistance? The workshop includes discussions on user acceptance and application-specific requirements as well as the identification of scientific challenges and possible solutions on kinematics and ergonomic design, hybrid actuation, motor and transmission selection, load estimation, myography-based control, and advanced assistive strategies.

Workshop format

This workshop will bring together researchers from exoskeleton companies and academia with the aim of fostering discussions about existing challenges and possible research opportunities. 

The workshop includes presentations from both industrial and academic researchers with considerable time allocated for discussion: after each presentation, during live demonstrations and during the panel group discussion.

The workshop also includes demonstrations from both industrial and academic sides. Demonstrations from industries will allow companies to showcase their product and solicit discussion on their features, their advantages, and the desired improvements. Demonstrations from academia will allow researchers to present their developments to foster the discussion on opportunities and limitations of the research approaches.

LIST OF TALKS

Kevin De Pauw
From proof of concept to market-proof robotics devices; Where neurophysiology meets bioengineering
Human Physiology and Sports Physiotherapy Research Group (MFYS), Vrije Universiteit Brussel (Belgium)
Kevin De Pauw is a human movement scientist of the Human Physiology and Sports Physiotherapy research group of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel. He conducts research in the field of occupational exoskeletons, prosthetics and cobots.

Andrea Calanca
Exoskeleton Control: from Actuation to Augmentation
Altair Robotics Laboratory, University of Verona (Italy)
Andrea Calanca is an associate professor at the University of Verona. He has 15 years of research experience with a main emphasis on control algorithms for human-robot interaction, including the control of flexible/elastic systems, EMG-based control, assistive strategies and exoskeleton design and control.

Massimo Sartori/Mohamed Irfan Refai
Estimating the Operator’s Payloads by Means of Personalized Neuromechanical Models
Neuromechanical Modelling & Engineering Lab, University of Twente (Netherlands)
Massimo Sartori is Professor and Chair of Neuromechanical Engineering at the University of Twente, where he directs the Neuromechanical Modelling & Engineering Lab. His research focuses on understanding how human movement emerges from the interplay between the nervous and the musculoskeletal systems. His goal is to translate such knowledge for the development of symbiotic assistive robots such as exoskeletons and bionic limbs.
Mohamed Irfan Refai is an Assistant Professor for AI and Sensing Technologies within the Chair of Neuromechanical Engineering. His research focus is on developing data- driven and model-based techniques for modelling human intention and movement and providing protective assistance for industrial or space applications. His background is in wearable sensing and personalized musculoskeletal models for assistive devices.

Jesus Ortiz
Extending the capabilities of active exoskeletons: actuation and control strategies Advanced Robotics, Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia
Wearable Robots, Exoskeletons and Exosuits Laboratory (XoLab), Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia (IIT) (Italy)
Jesús Ortiz leads IIT’s Wearable Robots, Exoskeletons and Exosuits Laboratory (XoLab), focusing on exoskeletons and soft exosuits for industrial, medical and space applications. His research focuses on mechatronic design, actuation, control, and user evaluation to improve the functionality and user experience of wearable robotics.

Stefano Toxiri
Occupational exoskeletons: Proteso’s experience and thoughts on achieving their impact on a global scale
Proteso srl, Genova (Italy)
Stefano Toxiri spent the last decade designing and validating wearable robots applied to preventing workplace overexertion injuries. After a PhD and seven years as researcher at IIT’s XoLab, he went on to co- found and lead Proteso, a spin-off company of IIT focused on bringing accessible powered exoskeletons to the market.

Emanuele Palazzi
Fully actuated lower-limb exoskeleton for operators’ assistance and power augmentation in Industry 4.0: RoboSuits state-the-art and case studies
RoboSuits srl, Genova (Italy)
After his master’s degree in mechanical engineering, Emanuele Palazzi received his PhD in Mechanical Engineering and Advanced Engineering Sciences. His research interests focused on human-robot interaction, advanced robotics, and exoskeletons. He’s currently working at RoboSuits as Product Manager, coordinating the mechatronic development of exoskeletal devices.

Shirley Elprama
Towards sustainable exoskeletons and user acceptance.
Imec-SMIT-Vrije Universiteit Brussel & FARI – AI for the Common Good Institute (Belgium)
Shirley A. Elprama completed her PhD thesis on the acceptance of occupational exoskeletons at work. She uses qualitative and quantitative (user-centred) research methods to study how people use technology at work (such as robots, cobots and exoskeletons).

Philipp Beckerle/Rodrigo Velasco
Human-centered Exoskeletons: Enhancing Design and Control through User Involvement
Autonomous Systems and Mechatronics, FAU Erlangen-Nürnberg (Germany)
Philipp Beckerle is full professor and chair of Autonomous Systems and Mechatronics at FAU Erlangen- Nürnberg (www.asm.tf.fau.de). His research interest is in human-centered mechatronics and robotics and his work was honored with various awards.
Rodrigo Velasco has been a doctoral candidate under the supervision of Philipp Beckerle since 2019 and is currently completing his doctoral dissertation. His research interests include fault-tolerant control of elastic actuators, exoskeleton development and control, and user experience in human-robot interaction.

 

LIST OF Demonstrators

LEX – The Light Exoskeleton by Robosuits

Proteso Exoskeleton by Proteso

Exo4Work, prototype from Vrije Universiteit Brussel, VUB (reference: Kevin De Pauw)

AGtuator, prototype from University of Verona (reference: Andrea Calanca)

EMG-based control testbed, prototype from University of Verona (reference: Andrea Calanca)

Contacts

Andrea Calanca – andrea.calanca@univr.it

Irfan Refai – m.i.mohamedrefai@utwente.nl