UL designs to minimise back pain awarded EU funds

Helping hand: Dr Leonard O'Sullivan is investigating how robots can help minimise back pain in work. Picture: Brian Gavin/Press22
A UNIVERSITY of Limerick research team has been awarded €480,000 in funding to develop their study on how human-robot interaction for manual handling could minimise the risk of lower back injury.

A UNIVERSITY of Limerick research team has been awarded €480,000 in funding to develop their study on how human-robot interaction for manual handling could minimise the risk of lower back injury.

UL received the funding for ‘Robomate’, to develop an exoskeleton for industrial applications, as part of a €5.8 million EU project. Dr Leonard O’Sullivan, lead researcher, said that about 44 million EU workers are affected by work-related musculoskeletal disorders every year, with an annual cost in excess of €240 billion to the European economy.

“The Robomate project aims to develop an exoskeleton for use in the workplace and in turn reduce back injury. Our team has extensive expertise in ergonomics and occupational health research, which, combined with our expanding research expertise in product design will determine key technology advances for the exoskeleton,” said Dr O’Sullivan.

The European Foundation for Living and Work Conditions reports that 65% of workers perform lifting and carry loads for at least a quarter of their normal work time. Work-related low back pain and injuries are the most common musculoskeletal disorders; these are directly related to frequent manual handling of heavy loads.

The UL research team is a collaboration between the Human Factors and Product Design Research Group and the Centre for Physical Activity and Health Research. The Robomate project is co-ordinated by Zurich University of Applied Science and involves 11 industry and academic partners from across Europe. The project is funded under Framework Programme 7.

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