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ASTM paving way for safer exoskeleton use through new maintenance standard

As exoskeletons and wearable robotic suits transition from science fiction to modern workplace reality, ensuring their safe and effective operation is becoming a pressing concern. ASTM International, a globally recognized standards organization, is taking an important step by developing guidelines to help companies and users properly maintain these high-tech devices.



The proposed new standard, designated WK89778, aims to provide a systematic approach for testing and verifying the functionality of exoskeletons used across industries like manufacturing, construction, emergency response and healthcare. By outlining maintenance protocols, ASTM hopes to align real-world exoskeleton performance with their intended design specifications.

"Exoskeletons play a pivotal role in augmenting human capabilities, so ensuring they work as expected through regulated maintenance is absolutely imperative for user safety," explained Matthew Dickinson, a mechanical engineering lecturer at the University of Central Lancashire involved in drafting the standard. "Simple things like confirming power supply for tools before use need to be accounted for."

Beyond just workplace safety, Dickinson notes the new exoskeleton standard supports the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goal #3 of promoting good health and well-being by safeguarding employees using the technology.

As exoskeletons find applications across diverse fields from industrial manufacturing to medical rehabilitation, ASTM is encouraging wide participation in shaping WK89778 from experienced professionals familiar with power tools, manual labor and related processes. An open collaboration will help account for all potential use cases.

"The advent of this groundbreaking technology necessitates a concerted effort across disciplines to get maintenance standards right from the start," Dickinson stated. "With exoskeletons tailored for individual workers, we need robust input from the field."

Exoskeleton standards are just one part of ASTM's growing focus on robotics amid increasing automation across industries. The organization is also developing standards for robotic grasping, legged robots, assembly robots, vision guidance for bin picking applications, and even robotic additive manufacturing for construction.

In a related biomedical realm, researchers at the Wyss Center are working on advanced AI algorithms to allow brain signals to directly control lightweight exosuits that assist arm and hand movements in real time. Their Synapsuit project aims to decode the complex neural signatures for seamless neural integration with robotic assistance.

As intelligent robotic systems like exoskeletons become more ubiquitous, ASTM's standards work will play a critical role in unlocking their potential while protecting human safety, well-being and empowerment. The first step is getting that pivotal exoskeleton maintenance standard right.

Looking ahead, ASTM itself is undergoing a transition as Andrew Kireta Jr. takes over as the new president starting May 1, 2024. With decades of experience in standards and executive roles, he seems well-positioned to help guide ASTM's innovative future across emerging technology frontiers like robotics and wearable machines working alongside humans.

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