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Research Spending & Results

Award Detail

Doing Business As Name:Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
  • Divya Srinivasan
  • (864) 905-5645
  • Maury A Nussbaum
  • Sunwook Kim
  • Alexander Leonessa
Award Date:09/17/2021
Estimated Total Award Amount: $ 3,574,513
Funds Obligated to Date: $ 3,574,513
  • FY 2021=$3,574,513
Start Date:10/01/2021
End Date:09/30/2026
Transaction Type:Grant
Awarding Agency Code:4900
Funding Agency Code:4900
CFDA Number:47.083
Primary Program Source:040100 NSF RESEARCH & RELATED ACTIVIT
Award Title or Description:FW-HTF-T/Collaborative Research: Occupational Exoskeletons and the Human-Technology Partnership: Achieving Scale and Integration into the Future of Work
Federal Award ID Number:2128926
DUNS ID:003137015
Parent DUNS ID:003137015
Program:FW-HTF Futr Wrk Hum-Tech Frntr
Program Officer:
  • Linda Molnar
  • (703) 292-8316

Awardee Location

Street:Sponsored Programs 0170
Awardee Cong. District:09

Primary Place of Performance

Organization Name:Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
Cong. District:09

Abstract at Time of Award

In multiple industrial sectors including manufacturing and construction, industrial exoskeleton technologies have substantial potential to improve productivity, and worker safety and well-being; and to equalize job opportunity by allowing diverse populations to enter and stay employed in physically demanding jobs that are otherwise inaccessible. Despite this potential, and extensive evidence from lab-based studies, exoskeleton technologies are still far from mainstream adoption in industry. Three key barriers inhibiting large-scale exoskeleton deployments are (1) deciding and rationalizing when exoskeletons should be implemented as part of a workflow; (2) understanding the social and organizational climate that is needed for successful implementation in industry; and (3) enabling a faster design-to-device cycle time for new technological solutions in the exoskeleton space. This research project aims to utilize an “at-scale” approach to address these gaps through the development of a modeling approach to predict the biomechanical consequences of exoskeleton use; design of a best-practices implementation approach for exoskeletons while considering socio-technical-organizational factors; and by “closing the loop” by creating a physical robotics platform to serve as an exoskeleton emulator to accelerate exoskeleton design. With the principle of convergence in mind, our proposed work will allow overcoming the noted barriers and will bring theory and practice together by to facilitate the transition of an innovative technology to a new normal. This project brings together several disciplines, including robotics, human factors, biomechanics, occupational health and safety, organizational science, psychology, and statistics. The investigator team is structured to achieve multiple convergent goals. First, the proposed research will substantially advance knowledge in modeling of human-exoskeleton interactions to obtain realistic predictions of human joint torques and reaction forces; second, theoretical and methodological innovations will be made in studying a complex socio-technical system at scale; and finally, a wearable robotics emulator will be designed and built to facilitate design modifications and assessment of exoskeleton users’ preferences of support profiles. We will pioneer theoretical advancements in organizational science and psychology, by developing and validating a multilevel model framework that converges two different technology acceptance models (respectively from the individual and organizational perspectives), to understand how individuals and organizations perceive and adopt exoskeletons. In turn, this work will also generate actionable strategies for re-thinking technology design, with our exoskeleton emulator “closing the loop” on the design side. Our work variously includes virtual modeling, physical prototyping, and experimental investigations with a tiered approach that gradually increases in breadth, scale, and complexity. This project has been funded by the Future of Work at the Human-Technology Frontier cross-directorate program to promote deeper basic understanding of the interdependent human-technology partnership in work contexts by advancing design of intelligent work technologies that operate in harmony with human workers. 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.

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