Musculoskeletal Disorders associated with the elbow are one of the most common forms of work-related injuries. Exoskeletons have been proposed as an approach to reduce and ideally eliminate these injuries; however, exoskeletons introduce their own problems, especially discomfort due to joint misalignment. The Elbow-sideWINDER with its associated control strategy is a novel elbow exoskeleton to assist elbow flexion/extension during occupational tasks. This study describes the exoskeleton showing how this can minimize discomfort caused by joint misalignment, maximize assistive performance, and provide increased robustness and reliability in real worksites. The proposed medium-level control strategy can provide effective assistive torque using three control units as follows: an arm kinematics estimator, a load estimator, and a friction compensator. The combined hardware/software system of the Elbow-sideWINDER is tested in load-lifting tasks (2 and 7 kg). This experiment focuses on the reduction in the activation level of the biceps brachii and triceps brachii in both arms and the change in the range of motion of the elbow during the task. It is shown that using the Elbow-sideWINDER, the biceps brachii, responsible for the elbow flexion, was significantly less activated (up to 38.8% at 2 kg and 25.7% at 7 kg, on average for both arms). For the triceps brachii, the muscle activation was reduced by up to 37.0% at 2 kg and 35.1% at 7 kg, on average for both arms. When wearing the exoskeleton, the range of motion of the elbow was reduced by up to 13.0° during the task, but it was within a safe range and could be compensated for by other joints such as the waist or knees. There are extremely encouraging results that provide good indicators and important clues for future improvement of the Elbow-sideWINDER and its control strategy.
Keywords: assistive device; benchmarking and evaluation; elbow exoskeleton; electromyography; motion capture; wearable robots.
Copyright © 2023 Park, Di Natali, Sposito, Caldwell and Ortiz.