PHOENIX — Inside WearTech Labs Thursday ABC15 was given an up-close look at how researchers with GoX and ASU have their sights and tech set on preventing workplace injuries.
“Battery compartments over here, his control for power will be right here,” said one researcher pointing to a newly developed exoskeleton. It features a lightweight system providing a taste of superhuman strength thanks to wearable robotics. Their hope is to take human capability to a new level.
“Within our own community we’ve got agriculture workers, mining workers, warehouse workers with a lot of injuries,” said Joe Hitt, CEO of GoX.
Hitt is part of a team that tested the device on Air-force Porters who are tasked with loading thousands of pounds of cargo on C-17s. That’s because aerial porters have one of the highest rates of injury in the Air Force, accounting for more than $31 million in annual disability benefits, according to a 2019 study by the U.S. Department of Transportation Volpe Center.
“The number one injury is back strain, and so we knew that’s where we want to focus first,” said Hitt.
That's where the exoskeleton comes into play. Small motors and batteries provide a boost of power to the lower body when lifting and pushing. Hitt says the system was extremely well received by the aerial porters putting them to work.
“It detects that you’re trying to lift up and it’s going to push on the thighs, these motors are gonna spin and push on the thighs and deliver that 30 to 40% more than you’re capable of doing,” said Hitt.
Of course, we had to try it for ourselves, first lifting an awkward-sized bin filled with 45 pounds. The system immediately fired as soon as the lift began.
So, we upped the ante, adding another 55 pounds. Once again picking it up over and over with surprising ease. Even more noticeable was the lack of fatigue in my lower back afterward.
The team, along with funding from the state, is now looking to partner with local businesses, providing them a newly built, more cost-effective version of the suit for free to test on their workers over a two-week period.
“We will have the same 20 people doing the same task with the exoskeleton and then without the exoskeleton and then we’ll look at the differences,” said Hitt adding the workers will be wearing sensors tracking fatigue and form.
They’re confident employers and workers will rave over those differences. Ones we certainly noticed ourselves. For employers to get involved in testing the PhenEx wearable, they can email firstname.lastname@example.org