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Soft Robotics Helps Caregivers Preserve Skeletal Health

By HospiMedica International staff writers
Posted on 24 Mar 2015
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Image: The CareJack vest supports the back without restricting freedom of movement (Photo courtesy of Fraunhofer IPK/IZM).
Image: The CareJack vest supports the back without restricting freedom of movement (Photo courtesy of Fraunhofer IPK/IZM).
An active vest provides caregivers’ extra support, helping to ease the physical stress placed on the musculoskeletal system when caring for patients.

Developed by researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Production Systems and Design Technology (IPK; Berlin, Germany) and the Fraunhofer Institute for Reliability and Microintegration (IZM; Berlin, Germany), the CareJack orthosis device is a light, soft, and comfortable to wear orthopedic prosthesis that can be worn over regular clothes, like a coat, provide ergonomic guidance and support for the wearer.

Rather than relying on the hard shells often used in orthoses, the researchers opted instead for a soft material that is flexible and comfortable to wear; all the electronics, including miniaturized components, flexible circuit boards, and all the necessary sensors, are incorporated into the material itself . The energy required comes from the wearers themselves, through their movements. When a caregiver bends down to lift a patient up, the smart medical aid stores the kinetic energy and can release it again when required.

The smart vest features a myriad of sensors that continuously monitor the way the wearer is moving, and a processor compares these data against the optimum movement pattern as dictated by ergonomic guidelines. As soon as it detects any irregularity, a warning lamp is activated, indicating the movement may be harmful. Not only that, but innovative synthetic actuators with adjustable rigidity help avoid incorrect movements and support correct ones. For example, the vest warns the user when he is lifting something heavy with a rounded back, instead of squatting down to lift the object with a straight back.

“Until now, there haven’t been any efficient support systems to help caregivers with the heavy work they encounter in their extremely varied day-to-day work,” said Henning Schmidt, who heads the project for IPK. “A prototype of the vest should appear in 2015. It’s not just caregivers who could make use of this sort of active support, but anyone performing heavy physical work – construction workers, roofers, garbage collectors, brick layers and many more.”

Related Links:

Fraunhofer Institute for Production Systems and Design Technology
Fraunhofer Institute for Reliability and Microintegration



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