Wearable exoskeletons promise to make an impact on many people by substituting or complementing human capabilities. There has been increasing interest in using these devices to reduce the physical loads and the risk of musculoskeletal disorders for industrial workers. The interest is reflected by a rapidly expanding landscape of research prototypes as well as commercially available solutions. The potential of active exoskeletons to reduce the physical loads is considered to be greater compared to passive ones, but their present use and diffusion is still limited. This thesis aims at exploring and addressing two key technological challenges to advance the development of active exoskeletons, namely actuators and control strategies, with focus on their adoption outside laboratory settings and in real-life applications. The research work is specifically applied to a back-support exoskeleton designed to assist repeated manual handling of heavy objects. However, an attempt is made to generalise the findings to a broader range of applications. Actuators are the defining component of active exoskeletons. The greater the required forces and performance, the heavier and more expensive actuators become. The design rationale for a parallel-elastic actuator (PEA) is proposed to make better use of the motor operating range in the target task, characterized by asymmetrical torque requirements (i.e. large static loads). This leads to improved dynamic performance as captured by the proposed simplified model and measures, which are associated to user comfort and are thus considered to promote user acceptance in the workplace. The superior versatility of active exoskeletons lies in their potential to adapt to varying task conditions and to implement different assistive strategies for different tasks. In this respect, an open challenge is represented by the compromise between minimally obtrusive, cost-effective hardware interfaces and extracting meaningful information on user intent resulting in intuitive use. This thesis attempts to exploit the versatility of the active back-support exoskeleton by exploring the implementation of different assistive strategies. The strategies use combinations of user posture and muscular activity to modulate the forces generated by the exoskeleton. The adoption of exoskeletons in the workplace is encouraged first of all by evidence of their physical effectiveness. The thesis thus complements the core contributions with a description of the methods for the biomechanical validation. The preliminary findings are in line with previous literature on comparable devices and encourage further work on the technical development as well as on more accurate and specific validation.
|Titolo della tesi:||An active back-support exoskeleton to reduce spinal loads: actuation and control strategies|
|Data di discussione:||8-feb-2018|
|Appare nelle tipologie:||Tesi di dottorato|