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Update on Exoskeletons Testing Standards and Terminology – This is your chance to get involved!

Update on Exoskeleton Standards and Terminology

There are major developments in defining how to communicate and examine wearable robotics and exoskeleton technology.  This also presents an opportunity for relevant research labs and companies to get involved!

Why standards?

Standardizing exoskeleton terminology is vital to further develop the exoskeleton field, which now, with over 60 (see list) manufacturers resembles the Wild West.  While this is an exciting time for innovation, there aren’t any guidelines on how to talk about these new class of wearable devices.  As you can imagine, if people are not 100% sure how to communicate about something there sure aren’t any agreed upon methods for evaluating and comparing exoskeletons.  Ultimately, this makes it difficult for investors, regulators, customers, and stakeholders to quickly process information on the exoskeleton industry.

“Sometimes people are using different terms to describe the same thing, and sometimes they use the same terms to describe different things.” – NIST, Exoskeleton Technical Interchange Meeting

The importance of establishing a consistent exoskeleton has been highlighted in past articles:

What is being done around the globe?

  • NIST Exoskeleton Terminology Task Group
  • Wearable Robotics Association (WearRA) Standards Committee
  • ISO/TC 299 Robotics

Exoskeleton Terminology Task Group

You might recall that one of the outcomes of the NIST Exoskeleton Technical Interchange Meeting was the creation of an Exoskeleton Terminology Task Group.  Over 50 participants from government organizations, developers and users signed up after the meeting.   Since March 2017, the group has met regularly once every two or three weeks and has created a substantial list of relevant terms and their meaning.

The group organizer and leader, Roger Bostelman, gave a complete update on the efforts at the DoE Technical Interchange meeting in June.  The meeting was successful in bridging together government organizations that were not necessarily aware of exoskeletons and wearable robotics development and the impact that can have on their departments.

The next step will be to setup an ASTM standards committee for the development and publication of standard exoskeleton test methods and terminology.  ASTM International is an accredited voluntary consensus standards development organization.Christine Dejong will host online information briefings associating with this committee development that will lead to a face-to-face organization meeting.

The meeting will be held Thursday, Sept. 14 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. EDT at ASTM International’s global headquarters in West Conshohocken, Pa. (USA).  Anyone interested in charting a path toward standards in this field is welcome to attend.  Here is the announcement and links to more information and to register for the September meeting and four briefing webinars.  The briefing sessions will allow you to learn more background about ASTM, their standards development model and provide an understanding of what the September organizational meeting entails.

WearRA Standards Committee

In parallel to NIST’s work, the Wearable Robotics Association Committee has continued its work on standards and education for the exoskeleton industry.  Led by Tom Sugar, the committee has focused on an effort to rationalize the best methodology to testing back support exoskeletons for work and industry.

Limiting the scope to a specific type of exoskeletons is a clever way to define the scope and focus the efforts of the committee members.  The committee meets monthly and has already produced its first draft.

ISO/TC 299 Robotics

The ISO/TC 299 Robotics group is working on robotics, excluding toys and military applications (visit their website).  Collectively, the group has already published 16 ISO standards and has 10 more in development.  The efforts by Work Group 2, Personal Care Robot Safety and Work Group 4, Sevice Robots has now started to overlap exoskeleton development and relevant subject matter.

At the last meeting, 17-19 July 2017 Budapest, Hungary, for example, relevant topics such as measuring, modeling and predicting skin damage due to the interface with an assistive robot was discussed.  This is a topic of great concern to the exoskeleton industry as users, especially for exoskeleton users that can’t feel the skin damage due to nerve damage (imagine an exoskeleton user that doesn’t have any nerve signal in the legs wearing down their skin while using an exoskeleton due to poor strap attachment or design).

And this is just the tip of the iceberg!  An internal discussion has started for the restructuring of the ISO13482 into type specific standards.  For example one for wearable robots.  The process has just begun and usually takes up to three years.   So now would be a good time to get involved.

Future dates (might change in rare cases):
10-12 October 2017 Suzhou, China
22-24 January 2018 Cambridge, UK

There are yearly ISO Plenary Meeting, where documents are finally approved and new Working Items can be suggested.  Working Groups convene normally as well:
28-30 May 2018 Kyoto, Japan

These locations change generally between Europe, Asia, and America with one meeting in each location once a year roughly.  But there is a lack of US and Canadian experts.  Experts can participate in one of two capacities, as a member or an observer.  Observers are always welcome and tend to participate lively during the discussions.  Also, they get all the documents being passed around during the meeting.  This is a quick and easy way to participate while waiting for a nomination or for just trying out the meetings.  U.S. members would have to be nominated by ANSI, and Canadian members by SCC.

Don’t miss out, get involved!

Are you working with exoskeleton technology and are starting to feel left out?  Don’t be, here is what you can do to get involved:

Join one of the informational meetings on creating ASTM standards:

Register for the ASTM face-to-face meeting in September: registration & information

Join the WearRA Standards & Education Committee, find out more at the WearRA website:

Visit the ISO/TC 299 Robotics website and consider participating, especially if you are in Canada or the U.S.

Finally, remember to check the Exoskeleton Events Calendar for updates.


Special thanks to Roger, Conrad, Jan, and Tom for providing all the necessary updates and information!

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