Construction, factory, and farm workers, among others, tend to put a lot of strain on their backs. It’s no surprise that back problems are common in such professions. Paying attention to one’s posture and being careful to avoid putting too much demand on the bones and muscles of the back can certainly help, but not everyone complies while others are injured anyways. There are passive exoskeletons that can help, but they essentially shift the load from one part of the body to another, while powered exoskeletons are still limited in functionality and very expensive.
ErgoJack is a new device developed at the Fraunhofer Institute for Production Systems and Design Technology IPK in Berlin, Germany, that constantly monitors the back’s posture and, when necessary, prompts the user to correct it.
Sensors within the soft device track how the back is moving and the readings are fed into a computer that runs artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms. The computer compares each movement to previously recorded “healthy” movements and, if it detects potential for injury, sets off a vibration alarm to get the wearer to change his ways.
The device works in real time, and its completely self-contained, so it doesn’t have to be plugged into a power source or connected to a wireless network. The battery, sensor, and built-in computer work together to give smarts to the ErgoJack vest.