Exoskeletons, also known as exosuits or wearable robots, are structures that can be attached to the human body to augment and reinforce user performance. Exoskeletons can be made from rigid material (e.g. metal or carbon fiber) or soft and elastic materials. Exoskeletons can support the entire body, just the upper or lower extremities, or just a specific body segment such as the lower back. The main function of an exoskeleton is to augment a user’s strength through the use of motors, or to transfer loads from a user’s weaker muscles and joints to stronger ones.

Active exoskeletons, or powered exoskeletons are equipped with sensors and actuators that are used to increase the strength and endurance of human limbs. While active exoskeletons can be more efficient at reducing strain on the user, they are often bulkier, heavier, and more expensive compared to passive exoskeletons.

Passive exoskeletons do not have an external power source and use springs, locking mechanisms, shock absorbers, or vibration reducers to augment the user’s strength. While passive exoskeletons are lighter, more cost effective, and enable a larger range of motion, they are usually not as powerful as active exoskeletons.

Considering the high rate of musculoskeletal disorders in the construction industry, exoskeletons have the potential to alleviate the physical demands of many construction tasks.

Despite the availability of exoskeletons developed for construction and manufacturing, adoption of this technology in construction sites is still in its infancy. Unlike manufacturing, the construction industry involves dynamic work sites where workers are engaged in a variety of activities. This necessitates more research and testing to evaluate the suitability of these suits for different construction tasks.

Since exoskeleton technology has the potential to provide much needed support and relief to workers whose bodies are pushed to the limit by labour-intensive tasks, the CIC is working with researchers from various departments of the University of Alberta to evaluate adoption of this technology in the construction industry.

Want to be a part of this research, or learn more about the CIC’s work alongside researchers studying and evaluating exoskeletons? Get in touch with our Research and Innovation scientist Ali Golabchi at alireza1@ualberta.ca.