Researchers from the Berlin-based Fraunhofer Institute for Production Systems and Design Technology IPK and the Fraunhofer Institute for Reliability and Microintegration IZM, are working together with industry partners to develop an active vest designed to offer caregivers extra back support. A news release from Fraunhofer states that the nonbulky orthosis is designed to be light, soft, and comfortable to wear.
Henning Schmidt, who is an IPK expert and is heading up the “CareJack” project, and his team have joined with company partners on a new strategy to assist individuals working in hospitals, nursing homes, or outpatient care. The release says that rather than relying on hard shells often used in orthoses, they have opted for a material designed to be flexible and comfortable to wear. All the electronics are integrated into the material.
The release notes that the wearers themselves generate the energy required for the orthosis, through their own movements. When a caregiver bends down to pick a patient up, the smart medical aid is engineered to store the kinetic energy and release it again when required.
The orthosis is ultimately engineered to ensure caregivers perform movements correctly. The smart vest, the release says, features a range of sensors designed to continuously monitor the way the wearer is moving. A processor compares these data against the optimum movement pattern. Once it detects any irregularity, a warning lamp is activated. Additionally, synthetic actuators with adjustable rigidity help avoid incorrect movements and support correct ones.
Scdmidt explains, “The wearer can decide themselves what level of support they want.”
While the technology requires a large amount of electronic equipment, in the release Erik Jung, IZM expert, points out, “Still, nobody wants to haul around a backpack full of electronics.”
To this end, for the “CareJack” project, Jung and his team collaborated with company partners to develop miniaturized components, flexible circuit boards, and all the necessary sensors. According to the release, a prototype of the vest should appear in 2015, and Schmidt estimates it will be in series production in 1 to 2 years.
The vest, the release adds, is not only intended for caregivers but for anyone performing heavy physical work.
Learn more about the technology and other research projects.
[Photo Credit: Fraunhofer IPK/IZM]