Nav: Home

Robot technology for everyone or only for the average person?

August 12, 2020

The Norwegian competitive athlete Birgit Skarstein is known in Norway for her participation in an expedition for the Lars Monsen TV series "Uten Grenser" (a remake of BBC's Beyond Boundaries). She is paralyzed from the waist down as the result of an accident. But a few years ago she walked onto the stage at the annual Sports Gala in Hamar.

An exoskeleton - an advanced robot technology - enabled this feat.

Exoskeletons are a type of outer framework, a wearable robotic device, that are used both in rehabilitation and to facilitate work tasks for people who need to do heavy lifting.

In rehabilitation, an exoskeleton can be used to help the user rebuild their body after an illness or accident, such as a spinal cord injury.

In work situations, exoskeletons are used as a supportive technology to make the job simpler or easier and to promote safer and more correct movement to prevent injuries and accidents. In other words, it's a useful, smart technology.

But as of today, this technology is primarily adapted for a western adult human being of average height and weight - and thus far from suitable for everyone.

Clear goal for the research

The average exoskeleton can accommodate a maximum height of 190 cm and a weight limit of 100 kg.

These parametres exclude many people from using this technology, whether for rehabilitation or to perform work tasks.

Norway has one of the world's tallest populations (approx. 180 cm for men, 168 cm for women). Indonesia has the shortest population in the world, with an average height of 157 cm. In countries like Bangladesh and Madagascar, women's average weight is 49 kg, while in the United States there are areas and states with many very overweight individuals. In Mississippi, for example, 40 per cent of the population is overweight.

"Technology is often developed for the average adult male, and being overweight is particularly challenging," says Roger A. Søraa. He studies robot technology and users at the Department of Interdisciplinary Studies of Culture and the Department of Neuromedicine and Movement Science at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU).

Exoskeletons are often designed according to a one-size-fits-all principle. Søraa is focused on encouraging design that accommodates different heights and weights.

Søraa has a clear goal for robot technology research:

"We want to get exoskeleton designers to think more inclusively and develop robot technology that works for more people," he says.

"This is a glimpse into a future that we want to make inclusive. That includes adapting health technology that can contribute to a better life for the user to be more widely accessible," he said

Together with researcher Eduard Fosch-Villaronga at Leiden University in the Netherlands, Søraa recently published the article: Exoskeletons for all: The interplay between exoskeletons, inclusion, gender, and intersectionality in Paladyn, Journal of Behavioral Robotics.

Not fair to end users

Søraa and Villaronga have investigated three of the largest exoskeleton manufacturers and looked at their user criteria: the US-based Ekso Bionics and Indego, and Cyberdyne from Japan.

The researchers point out in the study that robot technology was historically regarded as part of a male sphere, and the criteria used to develop new technology reflect the biases that existed at the time. But these criteria shouldn't still be used today.

"Exoskeleton users come in many different shapes, sizes and genders. However, designers tend to resort to the one-size-fits-all principle. From an investment point of view, this may be cost effective, but it does not do justice to end users who risk being excluded from accessing the technology," the researchers said.

Making the technology accessible

To make this technology accessible to all, the researchers are proposing some tools for designers and manufacturers to help them become more inclusive. These are:
  • Make sure that exoskeletons can support both overweight and underweight people.

  • Be aware of the physical differences between men and women.

  • Make the exoskeleton as easy as possible to put on, even for users who lack upper body strength.

  • Create buttons in different patterns so that colour blind people can easily operate them without fear of pressing the wrong button.

  • Create buttons with different textures for the blind, and add auditory response sensors.

  • Involve a diverse group of employees and users at all levels in the development - think of the end user.

  • Think about the importance of including typically marginalized segments of society such as LGBTQ (different sexual orientations).

  • Remember that not everyone has grandchildren who can "teach them how to use digital technology."

Søraa has had research stays in both Japan and South Korea, and robotic technology is far more widespread there than here.

"In Japan you see robots being used more often, including at airports for carrying luggage and in the shipping industry where there's a lot of unloading and loading of goods. This type of robot technology is getting more and more common, so it's important for it to be adapted to different users," he says.

We will probably see more exoskeletons in the future, both in the health and labour sectors. But it's important that as many people as possible be able to use them, he says.
-end-
Reference: Exoskeletons for all: The interplay between exoskeletons, inclusion, gender, and intersectionality. Roger Andre Søraa and Eduard Fosch-Villaronga. Paladyn, Journal of Behavioral Robotics | Volume 11: Issue 1. https://doi.org/10.1515/pjbr-2020-0036

Norwegian University of Science and Technology

Related Overweight Articles:

Overweight and obesity are associated with a low sperm quality
Researchers from the Rovira i Virgili University in collaboration with researchers from the University of Utah have carried out a systematic review and meta-analysis evaluating the association between adiposity (normal weight, overweight, obesity, and low weight) and the sperm quality.
Depression in adults who are overweight or obese
In an analysis of primary care records of 519,513 UK adults who were overweight or obese between 2000-2016 and followed up until 2019, the incidence of new cases of depression was 92 per 10,000 people per year.
Overweight from cosmetics
Parabens are used as preservatives in cosmetics. If pregnant women use cosmetics containing parabens that remain on the skin for protracted periods, this may have consequences for their child's subsequent weight development.
Overweight before age 40 increases the cancer risk
The risk of cancer increases considerably if you gain weight before the age of 40.
Overweight Danes are more likely to have overweight dogs according to new research
A new study from the University of Copenhagen reports that the prevalence of overweight dogs is markedly larger among overweight owners than among normal weight owners.
Overweight kids actually eat less right after stressful events
People often react to stress by binging on sweets or fattening comfort foods, cravings fueled by the appetite-stimulating stress hormone cortisol.
Abundant screen time linked with overweight among children
A recently completed study indicates that Finnish children who spend a lot of time in front of screens have a heightened risk for overweight and abdominal obesity, regardless of the extent of their physical activity.
Overweight, obesity in children across Europe
This study (called a systematic review and meta-analysis) combined the results of 103 studies with nearly 478,000 children (ages 2 to 13) to look at how common overweight and obesity are among children across Europe.
Overweight men are inhibiting childbirth
About 15% of couples in fertile age have experienced fertility problems.
Being overweight as a teen may be associated with cardiomyopathy in adulthood
The risk of developing cardiomyopathy, which often leads to heart failure, increased in adult Swedish men who were even mildly overweight around age 18.
More Overweight News and Overweight Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Debbie Millman: Designing Our Lives
From prehistoric cave art to today's social media feeds, to design is to be human. This hour, designer Debbie Millman guides us through a world made and remade–and helps us design our own paths.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#574 State of the Heart
This week we focus on heart disease, heart failure, what blood pressure is and why it's bad when it's high. Host Rachelle Saunders talks with physician, clinical researcher, and writer Haider Warraich about his book "State of the Heart: Exploring the History, Science, and Future of Cardiac Disease" and the ails of our hearts.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Insomnia Line
Coronasomnia is a not-so-surprising side-effect of the global pandemic. More and more of us are having trouble falling asleep. We wanted to find a way to get inside that nighttime world, to see why people are awake and what they are thinking about. So what'd Radiolab decide to do?  Open up the phone lines and talk to you. We created an insomnia hotline and on this week's experimental episode, we stayed up all night, taking hundreds of calls, spilling secrets, and at long last, watching the sunrise peek through.   This episode was produced by Lulu Miller with Rachael Cusick, Tracie Hunte, Tobin Low, Sarah Qari, Molly Webster, Pat Walters, Shima Oliaee, and Jonny Moens. Want more Radiolab in your life? Sign up for our newsletter! We share our latest favorites: articles, tv shows, funny Youtube videos, chocolate chip cookie recipes, and more. Support Radiolab by becoming a member today at Radiolab.org/donate.