Engineers at Vanderbilt University have developed a smart undergarment that supports the back during lifting tasks, to reduce the risk of back injury. The team recently unveiled the technology at the Congress of the International Society of Biomechanics in Brisbane, Australia.
“I’m sick of Tony Stark and Bruce Wayne being the only ones with performance-boosting supersuits. We, the masses, want our own,” says Karl Zelik, Assistant Professor of mechanical engineering. “The difference is that I’m not fighting crime. I’m fighting the odds that I’ll strain my back this week trying to lift my 2-year-old.”
The garment consists of two sections, one worn on the chest and another on the legs, that are connected with straps containing rubber segments at the back and glutes. Users can engage the straps right before they lift something, by tapping on the shirt twice. Once the task is completed, two more taps release the straps.
When the straps are engaged, the device provides support for the lower back during lifting tasks. In tests with volunteers, when the device was engaged, the lower back extensor muscles showed 15–45% reduced activity for each task, which reduces the risk of injury.
“People are often trying to capitalize on a huge societal problem with devices that are unproven or unviable,” said Dr. Aaron Yang, a back and neck specialist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. “This smart clothing concept is different. I see a lot of health care workers or other professionals with jobs that require standing or leaning for long periods. Smart clothing may help offload some of those forces and reduce muscle fatigue.”
See the smart underwear in the following video.