Back pain is inevitable with constrained posture over a number of hours. Permanent damage such as premature spine wear is not uncommon in people who do not adopt proper ergonomic posture. The same applies to those who frequently lift heavy objects.

ErgoJack with a locking hip joint and leg brace supports a worker when lifting heavy loads. (© Fraunhofer IPK)

ErgoJack is a smart, wearable, soft orthosis that features real-time motion analysis algorithms based on machine learning and AI to distinguish ergonomic from non-ergonomic movements. This differentiates the unit from commercially available exoskeletons that amplify all types of movements — even non-ergonomic ones — and divert the load placed on the wearer from an overloaded part of the body to a less taxed area.

The wearer receives real-time feedback from a vibrating alarm when he or she adopts postures or performs movements that are detrimental. Inertial measurement units (IMUs) built into the vest compare pre-learned movement patterns with the worker’s actual movement and assess it in real time. This takes just a few hundred milliseconds. The miniaturized motion sensors are located on the shoulders, back, and thighs.

These motion sensors are not the only in-built circuitry; the vest also features miniaturized electronics including an embedded controller, a vibration module, and a rechargeable battery. Data is processed locally on the vest. Researchers are working on encapsulating the electronics and sensors in the fabric version of the orthosis so it can be washed without having to first remove components from the vest.

Users will eventually be able to choose between a sensory vest made purely of fabric and a version with power assistance built in. Another variant of the current system comes with a back and hip support. Its orthotic brace has the smallest surface area necessary to support the body. A locking lateral hip joint on the vest serves to switch the joint torque transmission from the back to the legs on and off. This mechanism enables the worker to alternately perform tasks while standing and sitting.

For more information, contact Claudia Engel at +49 30 39006-238 or visit here .