Collaborative Research: NRI: Understanding Underlying Risks and Sociotechnical Challenges of Powered Wearable Exoskeleton to Construction Workers

Project: Research project

Project Details


A wide range of wearable robots are emerging as solutions to human operation challenges in the construction sector. The aim for such solutions is to reduce work-related physical injuries among workers by providing lift support, weight dispersion, and posture correction. In spite of the potential of these wearable robots in reducing the physical demands of construction workers, the current body of knowledge does not provide an adequate understanding of the risks and challenges of incorporating these robots on construction sites. Given the large number of back-related injuries in the construction industry, this research contributes to supporting the design and widespread use of powered back-support robots in the construction industry. By understanding the potential physical, psychological, and socio-technical risks of these wearable robots at construction sites, this project aims to overcome the challenges of scalable adoption of these wearable robots in the construction industry, thereby improving the safety and productivity of 7.5 million workers in the U.S. construction sector. Furthermore, this research will provide empirical evidence for manufacturers to design more adaptable, accessible, acceptable, and comfortable wearable robots for a wider range of body shapes and sizes to take into account diverse populations of the construction sector.This interdisciplinary research seeks to integrate advances across a diverse spectrum of critical innovations, including immersive technologies, physiological sensing, wearable robots, and organizational psychology, to identify the underlying physical, psychological, and socio-technical risks of exoskeletons in the construction sector. The technical aims of this project are divided into three thrusts. The first thrust will utilize a socio-technical perspective to identify barriers and facilitators to the adoption of exoskeletons in the construction industry. The second thrust will generate an immersive and interactive virtual-reality testbed for the feasible simulation of different construction tasks executed using these exoskeletons. In particular, this thrust will develop a user-centered, simulated workspace to seamlessly examine different interactions for a safe and feasible evaluation of pertinent physical and psychological risks. The third thrust will design a novel worker-centered risk assessment framework for evaluating the physical and psychological risks of using these exoskeletons for construction workers. Specifically, this thrust will integrate artificial intelligence and objective evaluations to develop a new interpretive pipeline between physiological and psychophysiological data with local muscular fatigue, fall risk, joint hyperextension, cognitive workload, trust, and vigilance of workers during the construction tasks. These three research aims will be complemented by a comprehensive evaluation plan featuring three intermediate evaluations to ensure the reliability of the project.This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.
Effective start/end date9/1/228/31/25


  • National Science Foundation: $495,000.00


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