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Italian technology innovates rail worker safety with StreamEXO Exoskeleton
The STREAM exoskeleton (StreamEXO) generates forces which are distributed to the shoulders and legs to support the worker's back during handling activities, such as lifting and carrying heavy loads. The device's ergonomics have been studied to enhance comfort and provide totally free movements, ensuring a perfect fit on the worker's body while carrying out dynamic activities.
Italian technology innovates rail worker safety with StreamEXO Exoskeleton
by Robert Schreiber
Berlin, Germany (SPX) Jul 25, 2023

In a groundbreaking move towards industrial worker safety, the Italian Institute of Technology (IIT) has launched the StreamEXO exoskeleton, a wearable device designed to protect railway maintenance workers from physical overload. Following a successful 6-month test campaign involving 15 individuals in Italy, the prototype's results were impressive, showing a 50% decrease in ergonomic risk and a reduction in muscle fatigue by 30%.

The StreamEXO, a product of the European project STREAM, was recently demonstrated live at the port of Tarragona in Spain. It showed promising results, confirming its readiness for the industrialization process. The STREAM project, under the coordination of IIT researcher Christian Di Natali, is part of a strategic transnational initiative funded by the European Union within Horizon 2020 and Shift2Rail Joint Undertaking. This initiative aims to drive research and innovation in the railway sector, enhancing its competitiveness, efficiency, and sustainability.

STREAM introduces a technological solution in line with Industry 5.0 principles, incorporating Internet of Things (IoT) connected activities and wearable technologies. The project resulted in the development of the StreamEXO and a fully automated excavator for use in rail worksites, focusing on tasks such as ballast and sleepers' replacement.

The StreamEXO generates forces distributed across the wearer's shoulders and legs, offering support to the back during activities involving heavy lifting and carrying. The device's ergonomic design ensures comfort, unrestricted movements, and a perfect fit during dynamic activities. Its innovative design includes a universal fit feature that offers both robustness and power, and yet maintains a lightweight build - weighing only 7 kg and boasting a battery life of 6 hours.

The exoskeleton comprises a mechanical structure, electric actuators, and an electronics system with specific algorithms to support workers. The algorithms interpret the wearer's movements to adjust to the different intensities of work and can automatically implement assistance strategies. The exoskeleton can be used in a versatile manner, allowing wearers to drive vehicles or navigate rough terrains while wearing it.

RFI and MERMEC STE s.p.a hosted the six-month experimental campaign in railway construction sites, including a final phase near Milan. In addition to several laboratory tests, on-site validation with railway workers was conducted. In these real-world scenarios, the workers wore the StreamEXO to carry and position concrete conduits weighing between 20kg and 30kg.

The campaign's results highlighted significant improvements in worker safety and comfort. StreamEXO use resulted in a 50% decrease in the ergonomic risk of physical overload, especially in the lumbar region, a 30% reduction in fatigue, and a 25% reduction in muscle activity.

These findings underscore the technological maturity of the StreamEXO prototype, pointing towards its imminent industrialization. The IIT's design aims to provide a comfortable solution for workers in heavy-duty industries and construction sectors, like railways, marking a significant stride in worker safety and efficiency.

Video: The exoskeleton StreamEXO (VIDEO)

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