Updated: May 13, 2020
We interviewed Matthew and asked about exoskeletons what is going on in that market, where exoskeletons are being tested and used?
Read also why Matthew Marino (picture right) from Briotix Health chose to use Myontec ErgoAnalysis™ in ergonomic projects and when evaluating exoskeletons for industrial companies.
There are a lot of stories about exoskeletons at the moment. But only few companies are using them in businesses. Why is that?
This question is both very simple and very difficult to answer. The very simple answer is because exoskeletons are not well designed for every job, task and person, and they are not appropriate to use on a large scale by everyone. In addition, exoskeletons typically should not be the first solution explored for solving a problem. Engineering controls can eliminate or minimize problems as well as the need for exoskeletons. When there is a better solution, companies are often choosing that over exoskeletons for good reason. That being said, they are being used by more than just a few companies for specific applications where they are well suited, this is generating many of the stories we see and hear, and these stories generate a lot of hype. Exoskeletons designed for shoulder and back injury prevention are being adopted on larger scales by very large companies that are household names, but these devices have many limitations, and companies are learning to use them for very specific use cases that can’t be made safer for the workers via engineering controls, tools, and other ergonomic solutions. As a result, many deployments have been tactical and very small, which is appropriate for technology like exoskeletons. Despite all the attention exoskeletons are getting, there is still a lack of awareness and education about exoskeletons, there are too many options for most people to keep track of, and there is a lot of uncertainty about their potential impacts due to a lack of scientific research and concrete examples to point to where exoskeletons where highly effective. As a result, occupational exoskeleton use is rightfully being approached with caution, with many companies still testing the technology rather than moving straight to large scale deployments. A final reason why exoskeletons are getting significant attention is because whether people like it or not they are a trendy, cool, sci-fi solution to problems people can all agree are worth solving. Who doesn’t want to see exoskeletons like Marvel’s Iron Man, or Ripley’s Power Loader helping workers manage injuries, helping paralyzed patients walk, or protecting and augmenting soldiers? People can love exoskeletons for trying, or hate them for falling short of expectations, but both mindsets contribute to the hype. Hype is great, but it does not translate well into user acceptance and adoption of real exoskeletons, which don’t yet perform as well as their Hollywood inspirations.
The big players probably see a good opportunity. They see that exoskeletons are getting better, becoming more useful and accepted, and they want a seat at the table because there is a lot of money to be made if the products are adopted. They also have experience in areas that translate well into exoskeleton design. For example, Ottobock has been in the Prosthetics and Orthotics business for a long time and has created revolutionary products for patients, and companies like Samsung can design and build a wide variety of technologies. There are lots of workers who perform physically demanding work, and there are lots of exoskeletons to sell to companies who want to use them to solve problems, prevent injuries, improve productivity and help people thrive. There are needs, large markets, and money to be made.
Example picture of Ottobock exoskeleton from the company.
How do you see the trends between active and passive exoskeletons? Are there specific industries more interested in active ones or is it more pricing question?
There are certain industries, jobs, and tasks that are well suited for the introduction of active exoskeletons. Anywhere there is a need for very heavy lifting, carrying, pushing, pulling and gripping may see these devices play a role when the technology is ready. Active devices are the future, and those companies that are serious about using them are already planning for them. Price is always a factor, but with good planning this can be managed, and the financial models must make sense or else there would be no interest.
Out of all the exoskeletons. What is in the biggest interest now (wrist, forearm, elbow, shoulder, low back, leg support) and why?
On the occupational side, shoulder and back assist exoskeletons are the biggest interest now because these body areas are very commonly injured and very costly. The interest in hand, lower extremity and full body exoskeletons is also increasing.
MSDs are a huge problem in the modern world. Still more than 20% of disabilities worldwide are due to MSDs, and they are estimated to cost the European Union around 240 billion euros each year in lost productivity and absence due to sickness. The figures have been decreasing slowly but now we are seeing more advanced technology and tools to prevent MSDs. You have started to use Myontec ErgoAnalysis in your work. Why is that? How do you see it can bring more beneficial outcome to your customers?
I am very interested in using wearable technology as a tool for my job. I believe we can do better quality and more efficient ergonomic assessments for our clients using wearable technology to test the demands of work on the actual workers, including how ergonomic solutions can impact those demands in a more objective manner in the workplace than ever before. Traditional ergonomic assessment methods rely on time consuming methods based largely on static models for assessing dynamic work. I understand the value of these ergonomic tools and methods, and I use them regularly, but I am also really interested in how the work and the ergonomic solutions we propose then impact the actual workers. One of the best way to understand these impacts is by looking directly at the physical and physiological responses of the workers to the work. In the clinic an d fitness environments, I’ve always found value in feedback loops, testing and retesting to see if there’s measurable change, and using data to drive programming. This is something that Myontec’s systems help me bring into ergonomics consulting and coaching services. The Myontec system can be used to measure sEMG, HR, cadence, and postural angles, sync the data with video, analyze the data, and produce useful, meaningful reports. We can use the technology to measure the physical demands of work, and the impacts that ergonomic solutions have, regardless of the type of project, including for example how a shoulder-assist exoskeleton changes muscle activity, HR and movement in the workplace. For me, the Myontec system is a powerful tool to help me provide higher quality, more technical, data driven services to my clients.
You have been testing and trying almost all passive commercial exoskeletons. Are there big differences between the products?
They are all different, and their differences are important to understand. I enjoy testing exoskeletons because I believe that feeling this wearable technology for myself, and very often measuring the impacts of the technology on myself is the best way for me to understand how to use the technology to help others. My office is full of dozens of exoskeletons, and I spend a significant amount of time with each one. By feeling and measuring the differences I can use this experience and knowledge to help my clients tactically deploy exoskeletons for the right jobs, tasks, and individual workers. There are some very important differences between exoskeletons, even when we are talking about devices that support the same body part, for example the shoulder. I believe that a solid understanding of all of the differences between devices is essential for providing my clients with the best possible guidance when it comes to choosing exoskeletons as well as designing and implementing the systems behind making them successful in the workplace.
Can you generalize or list the work/work tasks where you recommend to use exoskeletons?
Right now, generally, I would say jobs and tasks that cannot be redesigned to be safer that require a significant amount of bending, lifting, reaching, heavy gripping and overhead work.
What tips would you say to company who is interested in knowing more or interested in testing exoskeletons?
I would encourage companies who are interested in using exoskeletons to first engage a professional ergonomist to evaluate the work and recommend potential solutions. If there are no engineering or administrative control options to address the problem an exoskeleton may then be considered. At that point an exoskeleton expert should be engaged. Lots of time and money can be saved by coming up with a good exoskeleton strategy and fast-tracking the discovery phase. Exoskeleton experts can review videos of the workers to determine if they and their work are compatible with any exoskeletons. Experts can then provide demonstrations of numerous devices at the same time so that workers and managers alike can see multiple options side by side, try them on, and pick the devices they want to explore further for themselves. Demonstrations of this kind can be done in a fair, unbiased manner that isn’t salesy for the client, allowing them greater freedom to explore their options without pressure. Exoskeleton experts often have good relationships with all manufacturers, can help make connections with the chosen device manufacturers for the targeted jobs, tasks and workers, design the exo-system (including but not limited to the exoskeleton devices, users, supporting personnel, processes, logistics and training), coordinate pilots, perform workplace studies, facilitate exoskeleton implementation, support sustainment of the devices, identify new exoskeleton options and support the use of the devices in the workplace throughout their lifecycle. Exoskeletons take a team approach to do well in the workplace, including a professional ergonomist and exoskeleton expert. The rapidly evolving exoskeleton industry is difficult to keep up with, even for many safety and ergonomics professionals, and there are experts out there who specialize in working with these devices who are eager to help.
Most of the ergonomics issues would be solved proactively, before they arise. How you are planning to use Myontec technology in your work?
I have successfully used it for a variety of applications, such as testing shoulder-assist and back-assist exoskeletons, and for evaluating a new office chair. With workers who are willing to wear the Myontec system, I think it can be used to evaluate almost any type of work. I see it as a system that can both help to identify problems, and measure the physical and physiological impacts of solutions at the worker level.
Tell us also how you started to work with exoskeletons?<