Shoulder exoskeletons potentially reduce overuse injuries in industrial settings including overhead work or lifting tasks. Previous studies evaluated these devices primarily in laboratory setting, but evidence of their effectiveness outside the lab is lacking. The present study aimed to evaluate the effectiveness of two passive shoulder exoskeletons and explore the transfer of laboratory-based results to the field. Four industrial workers performed controlled and in-field evaluations without and with two exoskeletons, ShoulderX and Skelex in a randomized order. The exoskeletons decreased upper trapezius activity (up to 46%) and heart rate in isolated tasks. In the field, the effects of both exoskeletons were less prominent (up to 26% upper trapezius activity reduction) while lifting windscreens weighing 13.1 and 17.0 kg. ShoulderX received high discomfort scores in the shoulder region and usability of both exoskeletons was moderate. Overall, both exoskeletons positively affected the isolated tasks, but in the field the support of both exoskeletons was limited. Skelex, which performed worse in the isolated tasks compared to ShoulderX, seemed to provide the most support during the in-field situations. Exoskeleton interface improvements are required to improve comfort and usability. Laboratory-based evaluations of exoskeletons should be interpreted with caution, since the effect of an exoskeleton is task specific and not all in-field situations with high-level lifting will equally benefit from the use of an exoskeleton. Before considering passive exoskeleton implementation, we recommend analyzing joint angles in the field, because the support is inherently dependent on these angles, and to perform in-field pilot tests. This paper is the first thorough evaluation of two shoulder exoskeletons in a controlled and in-field situation.
|Journal||IEEE Transactions on Neural Systems and Rehabilitation Engineering|
|Publication status||E-pub ahead of print - 2 Dec 2020|