Lower back pain is one of the leading causes of medical absence for employees worldwide, accounting for hundreds of millions of lost work days annually. The SPEXOR project, funded by the EU, is creating wearable robotic solutions to prevent lower back pain in workers and help sufferers return to the workplace.

Scientists all over the world are developing wearable robots –  also known as exoskeletons – with the aim of either enabling able-bodied humans to do more or improving the condition of people with impaired physical abilities. Most of these exoskeletons are focused on arm and leg movement, with less emphasis on the role of the spine. In SPEXOR, we are developing spinal exoskeletons that provide effective assistance for jobs that involve repeated lifting and work in awkward postures. We are currently working on several “intelligent” spinal exoskeletons that reduce mechanical stress on the human spine, yet remain comfortable and unobtrusive for the wearer. We are also developing a sensorised suit that monitors stress parameters on the spine and gives feedback to the user when the risk of lower back pain increases.

In a video that was recently filmed for the Euronews Futuris series, we show one of our exoskeleton prototypes and the sensorised suit in the lab and in a production factory.

The funding for our project from the EU’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme allowed us to work together in an interdisciplinary team of partners with extensive experience in work ergonomics, modelling and optimisation of human movement, design, control, and the real-life evaluation of exoskeletons. As we gain more scientific insights and refine the designs of our prototypes, we are also exploring different ways of turning our technology into commercial products.