IIT develops revolutionary exoskeleton to reduce railway worker fatigue

The Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia (Italian Institute of Technology—IIT) has successfully created a revolutionary back support exoskeleton known as StreamEXO. The primary goal behind this development is to significantly enhance the safety and working conditions of railway workers during heavy manual material handling during maintenance and renewal operations.

The prototype, StreamEXO, underwent extensive validation, with 15 individuals using it for approximately 100 hours over a span of 6 months during a test campaign held in Italy. The results were astounding, showing a remarkable 50% reduction in ergonomic risk related to physical overload and a substantial 30% decrease in muscle fatigue. These promising outcomes have set the stage for the StreamEXO to become a game-changer in the industry.

Recently, the exoskeleton was showcased through a live demonstration at the port of Tarragona in Spain, where workers donned the StreamEXO during their tasks. The success of the demonstration marks a significant step forward, as the exoskeleton is now ready to undergo an industrialization process, making it available for widespread use.

The development of StreamEXO was accomplished within the framework of the European project STREAM, under the coordination of Christian Di Natali, a researcher at IIT. This project represents a pioneering transnational initiative aimed at driving research and innovation in the railway sector, with the ultimate aim of making it more competitive, efficient, and sustainable.

The STREAM project is at the forefront of the Industry 5.0 movement, which emphasizes the integration of the Internet of Things (IoT) and wearable technologies to enhance workers’ activities. This innovative approach has paved the way for remarkable solutions, including the StreamEXO exoskeleton and a fully automated excavator. The automated excavator is specifically designed to execute tasks at rail worksites, such as the replacement of ballast and sleepers.

With these cutting-edge developments, the railway sector is embracing technological advancements that will undoubtedly reshape the future of work and safety in the industry. The StreamEXO exoskeleton, along with other groundbreaking solutions, is set to redefine the landscape of railway operations, benefiting workers and optimizing performance.

A back support exoskeleton has been developed at the Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia (Italian Institute of Technology—IIT) to improve railway workers’ safety and conditions for heavy manual material handling during maintenance and renewal operations. The prototype, named STREAMEXO, was validated in approximately 100 hours of use by 15 people during a 6-month test campaign hosted in Italy highlighting a 50% reduction in the ergonomic risk of physical overload and a 30% of muscle fatigue. The exoskeleton StreamEXO has been developed within the European project STREAM (streams2r.eu/) coordinated by Christian Di Natali, researcher of the IIT and funded by the European Union within Horizon 2020 and Shift2Rail Joint Undertaking. Credit: IIT-Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia

During the final event of the STREAM project in Tarragona, Spain, on June 8, researchers unveiled the impressive exoskeleton, StreamEXO, and an automated excavator, both designed for rail worksites. The event garnered significant attention from esteemed attendees, including the Shift2Rail Project Office and port authorities.

The StreamEXO exoskeleton is a groundbreaking creation that assists workers in handling activities like lifting and carrying heavy loads. By effectively distributing forces to the shoulders and legs, it provides crucial support to the worker’s back, reducing the risk of physical strain and injury. One of the key highlights of the exoskeleton is its emphasis on ergonomics, ensuring maximum comfort and unrestricted movement for the wearer during dynamic tasks.

Ingeniously, the StreamEXO exoskeleton offers a unique one-size-fits-all solution, combining robustness and power without compromising on flexibility. Moreover, the exoskeleton boasts a remarkably lightweight design, weighing in at only 7 kg, making it easy for workers to wear and move around comfortably. The inclusion of a long-lasting battery, providing up to 6 hours of autonomy, further adds to its practicality and usability.

The presentation of the StreamEXO and the automated excavator at the Port of Tarragona showcased the incredible potential these innovations hold for revolutionizing the railway sector. These cutting-edge technologies promise to enhance worker safety, efficiency, and overall working conditions, contributing to a more competitive and sustainable railway industry.

The StreamEXO prototype was validated in approximately 100 hours of use by 15 people during a 6-month test campaign hosted in Italy highlighting a 50% reduction in the ergonomic risk of physical overload and a 30% of muscle fatigue. The design of the StreamEXO created by IIT was intended to be a comfortable solution to be used during work shifts for workers employed in the heavy-duty industry and in the construction sector, such as railways. Credit: IIT-Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia

The exoskeleton, StreamEXO, is a sophisticated device composed of mechanical components, electric actuators, and an electronics system. Its advanced features are complemented by specific algorithms that play a pivotal role in reducing the risk of worker injuries during tasks. These control algorithms enable the exoskeleton to interpret the user’s movements and dynamically adjust assistance levels accordingly. This adaptability allows workers to employ StreamEXO in various scenarios, including driving vehicles or navigating challenging terrains.

To assess the exoskeleton’s benefits, a comprehensive six-month experimental campaign was carried out at railway construction sites by RFI and MERMEC STE s.p.a., with the final phase conducted near Milan. Throughout the campaign, rigorous laboratory tests and on-site validations were performed in collaboration with railway workers.

During the final demonstration, 15 workers wore StreamEXO for approximately 100 hours while engaging in real work activities at railway sites. These tasks involved carrying and positioning concrete conduits weighing between 20kg and 30kg.

The results of the evaluation were truly impressive. The StreamEXO exoskeleton exhibited a remarkable 50% reduction in the ergonomic risk related to physical overload, particularly for the lumbar region. Additionally, fatigue levels were significantly reduced, showing an improvement of up to 30%, while muscle activity was reduced by 25%.

The success of the experimental campaign has elevated the prototype to an advanced technological maturity level, positioning it well for future industrialization. The design philosophy behind StreamEXO, developed by IIT, is centered around providing a comfortable and efficient solution for workers in heavy-duty industries, such as construction and railway sectors, making it suitable for prolonged use during work shifts.

With its groundbreaking capabilities, StreamEXO promises to revolutionize the safety and well-being of workers engaged in physically demanding tasks, paving the way for a more sustainable and efficient working environment in the construction and railway industries.

Source: Italian Institute of Technology

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