Two technical innovations that will have an impact on construction health and safety in the near future are wearable technologies and exoskeletons.
Exoskeletons, or exosuits, are metal frameworks fitted with motorized or spring loaded ‘muscles.’ The frameworks are modeled on the wearer’s internal skeletal structure and enable improved performance of repetitive tasks such as squatting, bending or walking. When used properly, exosuits make objects feel lighter, hence reducing fatigue and injuries.
The technology shows promise in providing better ergonomic support, curbing repetitive stress injuries and decreasing fatigue among workers who, for example, have to crouch or hold their arms above their heads for significant portions of their workday.
Thomas Sugar, professor at Arizona State, started in the field developing devices that aid stroke victims during recovery. He and his team then transitioned to exoskeletons that helped members of the U.S. military carry heavy items.
Sugar said he has since found a more widespread need for exoskeletons in industry. The goal is to “make it so at the end of 30 years, you feel OK,” he said, “Not at the end of 30 years you’re on workers’ compensation. No one wants that.”