ErgoX Symposium 2020 Exoskeleton Track Day One Recap

ErgoX Symposium Exoskeleton Track Day 1 Recap

Tuesday, October 13, was the first day of the 2020 Human Factors and Ergonomics Society (HFES) ErgoX Symposium with three entirely separate but interchangeable tracks: cybersecurity, robotics, and exoskeletons. Attendees could pick and choose presentations and breakout rooms between the three tracks at will. This is the second time the Exoskeleton Report has been in attendance, and our team does not want to repeat the mistake of last year and skip on publishing a recap of the exoskeleton track of the symposium.

Opening Remarks

Dr. Chris Reid, The Boeing Company

In his opening remarks, Dr. Chris Reid, President-Elect of HFES, said that he views ErgoX 2018, 2019, and 2020 as examples of continuous learning. Exit interviews show consolidation of topics and questions. But the industry still has much to do on evaluation, safety, and return on investment.

Keynote: The National Science Foundation – Research Support for Research Related to Exoskeletons and Their Use

Dr. Bob Scheidt of the National Science Foundation used the stage to outline the work by the NSF and how it relates to possible future exoskeleton research grants. The presentation highlighted four projects: Foundational Research and Robotics (FRR), Mind Machine and Motor Nexus M3X, Future of Work at the Human-Technology Frontier (FW-HTF) Program, Leading Engineering for America’s Prosperity Health and Infrastructure (LEAP HI). The NSF has been granting funds for exoskeleton research over the past few years, but this is the first time a representative of the organization has been at an exoskeleton event (to the best of our knowledge). ExR will cover Dr. Scheidt’s keynote in a separate article.

Vendor Talks:

Mark Harris, CEO of Hero Wear

Consider the global transportation system, says Mark Harris. If the trade of physical goods is half of the world economy, and 99.9% will be touched by a person in manufacturing or transportation, the scale of physical exertion is enormous. Mark demonstrated research showing reduction in the strain of back muscles with the APEX. (See our article on the APEX exosuit and its get-out-of-the-way design: HeroWear Reveals the Apex Exosuit at WearRAcon 20)

Unfortunately, not being able to physically touch or try out the exoskeletons is likely the biggest weakness of virtual conferences. “Aiming for 2021” says the moderator, Dr. Chris Reid.

Janne Pylvas, Myontec – ErgoAnalysis for load assessment

This is a Finland-based company that makes smart clothing with integrated EMG sensors. Janne presented both an upper-body and lower-body exoskeleton use case. The conductive sensors are embedded in underwear-like clothing and optional EMG belt. Their tests reaffirm that reduction in muscle loading is very much task-specific. In some cases, the movement constriction by the exoskeleton did not seem to justify the reduction in muscle loading, reports Janne.

Research Methods 1: Size/Shape/Fit, What Metrics Are Right?

Physical Demands and Learning Associated with Using a State-of-the-art Whole-body Powered Exoskeleton

Dr. Divya Srinivasan, Virginia Tech University

There is almost no available literature on a full-body exoskeletons, says Dr. Divya Srinivasan. She used the Guardian Alpha XO, like the one we had the chance to see at the Sarcos HQ. (Read Guardian XO Alpha: Up Close and Personal with the Sarcos Robotics Full-Body Powered Exoskeleton) Dr. Srinivasan has now worked with the Sarcos prototype since 2018, with an initial focus on the cognitive cost of wearing the wearable robot.

Relying on the actual prototype and not a simulation was key, says Dr. Srinivasan. Participants were tasked with logistics relevant tasks with different loads. A key finding was that as load levels increased, the difference between exo and non-exo conditions became more differentiated. Stationary task results were more pronounced than mobile tasks. Another interesting observation was that data from the “no-exoskeleton” condition was far, far more varied compared to that of users with the powered exoskeleton. This opens a whole new set of questions if perhaps exoskeletons should not only be task-specific but also user-specific?

Measuring Exosystem Operator Use Intent: The Exosystem Use Intent Model

Kevin Purcell, US Public Army Health Center

It is not a question if the user can use the device, but is the technology being abandoned? This is not the same as usability, though it is often called as such. Abandonment is common to many devices such as speech to text devices for those with an injury temporarily preventing them from using a keyboard effectively. Abandonment, or technology acceptance, is certainly a major topic of interest for the young exoskeleton industry. Focus groups and question matrices could be used to evaluate any immediate problems to adoption or to highlight future studies or need for simulation.

Lab and Field Studies to Assess if Exoskeleton Usage Reduces Muscle Fatigue Risk

Dr. Jason C. Gillette, Iowa State University

The more often or longer a muscle group is activated, the higher the likelihood of muscle fatigue. The relationship can be graphed out and used to predict how long it will take for fatigue to set in for a repetitive task. Tests with and without an exoskeleton can show the change in muscle fatigue risk. The exoskeleton changes the amount of exertion (while the task time remains the same), thus “sliding” the task down the curve. Based on the research, exoskeletons can be beneficial for some tasks, sometimes below the fatigue threshold and sometimes not. The exact posture (like shoulder and elbow angles) of the worker is critical.

The prerecorded presentations were followed by a lively 20 minute Q&A session that once again worked well in the virtual environment. 

Developer Session

Ben Wolff, Sarcos Robotics, Ryan Porto, General Motors, Johan Sleman, Bioservo, Dr. Samuel Reimer, Ottobock

The developer session included a ton of new information and updates, which ExR will cover separately:

  • use of AI with exoskeletons
  • power-glove evolution and acceptance
  • the future of industrial exoskeletons in the workplace
  • Q&A panel

COVID-19 & Exoskeletons

Controlling SARS-CoV-2 on Critical and Sensitive Infrastructure Lessons on Limited Environmental Data for Infectious Diseases

Dr. Mark Weir, Ohio State University

How do infectious diseases work within different types of critical infrastructure? A couple of things being noticed is that there are research gaps that have not been closed: for example, what is “surface decontamination?” The social science components have defined the same thing differently across infrastructures. SARS-CoV-2 moves around and causes Covid-19, which starts in the nasopharyngeal region, hence why the test is so unpleasant. 

In reality, we don’t have a very good understanding of preventative plans for SARS-CoV-2 or the next pandemic that will come down the road, says Dr. Weir. The Covid-19 pandemic is a demonstration of how difficult multi-disciplinary challenges can be. Various scientic fields don’t necessarily understand or talk to each other. 

Happy Hour

Breakout Room 1: Industrial/Logistics – Exoskeletons: PPE vs. Tools vs. Other

Breakout Room 2: Improving Exoskeleton Usefulness, Usability, and Desirability

Breakout Room 3: Running the Gauntlet: Funding to Research to Design to Utilization

This breakout was an excellent opportunity to interact with people from around the globe that are connected to the exoskeleton industry in one way or another. Truly, the one hour and twenty minutes flew by in seconds. The breakout sessions and the chat discussions were not a substitute for an in-person meetings but were as close as one could get.

One could only hope ErgoX 2020 Day 2 is able to follow in the footsteps of the symposium kick-off.


For the full schedule of the ErgoX Symposium visit the HFES website:

Upcoming Events

Nov 09

F48 Fall 2020 Meeting

November 9 - November 10
Nov 19

Webinar: When to use Exoskeletons as PPE

November 19 @ 8:00 am - 10:00 pm PST
Mar 30

ASTM F48 Committee Meeting

March 30, 2021 - April 1, 2021

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