Wearable Support Systems Enhancing the Workplace

Wearable support systems help improve a variety of working environments through functions such as assisting workers with movement. In recent years, several new kinds of wearable support systems with unique functionality have been released.

Wearable support systems help improve a variety of working environments through functions such as assisting workers with movement. In recent years, several new kinds of wearable support systems with unique functionality have been released.
(Photos courtesy of CYBERDYNE Inc., Power Assist International Corporation, EIKO Co., Ltd., SUN-S Co., Ltd.)

Exosuits make a significant impact in a variety of industries, such as the manufacturing industry, where heavy loads must often be lifted, the agriculture industry, which frequently requires work in stooped down positions, and the caregiving industry, where caregivers must provide support in the daily lives of the elderly. Amidst concerns over rising temperatures due to global warming, there has also been a rapid increase in the popularity of apparel equipped with electric fans as a countermeasure against the intense heat of Japan’s hot seasons. In this article, we’ll be introducing the highly beneficial wearable support systems used in workplaces around Japan.

What is an Exosuit?

The term exosuit can refer to soft clothing or rigid exoskeleton devices designed to assist movements of the wearer. Through the utilization of features like electric actuators (drive mechanisms) and artificial muscles, these exosuits provide support for physical functions using power sources other than the natural strength of the human body, reducing physical strain on the wearer when lifting heavy things or moving things in a stooped posture.
In the early stages of development, exosuits were characterized by their heavy weight, high cost and difficult practical implementation. However, technological advancements have led to success in lowering equipment weight, as well as improvements and diversification of assistive technology functionality. Various types of powered exosuits as well as non-powered exosuits have been developed for use in a variety of applications.
For example, there are types of exosuit equipment that assist caregivers in the medical and caregiving fields by reducing load on their lower backs. There are also types of equipment for assisting individuals who require care in moving independently, as well as types of equipment for assisting the movement of workers in various workplaces. There are also equipment types that operate with power sources like motors, and also ones that operate without motors, instead utilizing springs or tubes. When using an exosuit, it is important to consider the use case and nature of the tasks in order to choose appropriate equipment.

Widely Used in the Caregiving Field! The “Cyborg” Assisting Independent Movement of Care Patients and Caregivers

This Wearable Cyborg assists movement in the core and lower limbs based on bioelectrical signals.
As a human moves, faint signals are sent from the brain to the body. The cyborg reads these signals from the surface of the skin, enabling movement in accordance with the intention of the wearer.
For example, when worn by elderly individuals or those with disabilities, this cyborg can effortlessly assist in performing repeated movements like standing up and sitting down, supporting the wearer based on their own intentional movements. The cyborg has been scientifically analyzed and verified from both medical and anatomical perspectives to reduce the load on the lower back during transfers and repositioning, particularly physically demanding tasks for caregivers.
Development is underway to reduce the size and weight of the cyborg even further in order to expand its use across various fields in the future.

Left: It can be worn by securing just four belts, and includes a mode that can be activated in just 10 seconds. Compact, lightweight and battery-powered, it is highly versatile, appropriate for use not just in hospitals and care facilities, but for home care and visits as well.
Right: The cyborg not only relieves a caregivers worries in regards to their lower back, it can even assist those requiring care in moving independently. (Photos courtesy of CYBERDYNE Inc.)

An Exosuit that Reduces Human Energy Consumption by 20-30% With its Four Assist Functions

One exosuit was developed to make it possible for those with lower physical strength to work on worksites, helping solve labor shortages in agriculture, logistics, internal factory transportation, construction, caregiving and other fields where labor shortages are a concern. The exosuit is capable of four functions: lifting, lowering, maintaining a stooped posture and walking. It is equipped with motion sensors to instantly detect the wearer’s movements. Without delay, it utilizes electric motors to bear up to 15 kg of force for the wearer. By wearing the exosuit, it is said to reduce the physical burden of tasks by around 20%. The exosuit has been adopted in logistics, construction sites and factories, reducing the burden of transportation tasks and enhancing work efficiency. The exosuit’s appeal lies in its ability to provide assistance as required and in the appropriate amount, exactly when necessary. In order to instantly detect the wearer’s movements and provide strong and smooth assistance accordingly, the exosuit utilizes responsive electric motors and a computer.
Moving forward, the aim is to create even lighter, smoother and more fashionable products to be widely used not only at worksites, but in everyday life, by men and women of all ages.

Left: The exosuit itself is just 4.7 kg and highly compact.
Right: During use, the operator wears the main body of the exosuit on their back, strapping on belts that transmit assisting forces to the lower back, abdomen and thighs. (Photos courtesy of Power Assist International Corporation)

Cool and Comfortable Work Outdoors Even in the Hot Summer Season! Electric-Fan Equipped Jackets

These fan-equipped jackets were developed to help deal with the intense heat of summer, and were created in response to feedback from customers who wanted to improve their working environment by addressing the issue of heat on job sites. After a bath, doesn’t the air from a fan feel even cooler on your damp skin? When water evaporates, transitioning from a liquid to a gas, it absorbs heat from its surroundings. This is known as the “heat of vaporization.” Wind promotes the evaporation of water, thus drawing trapped heat from the body, resulting in a cooling sensation. Fan-equipped jackets are wearable support systems that utilizes this principle of heat of vaporization.
In one experiment that measured the effectiveness of this fan-equipped jackets on workers, it was found the area around the chest beneath the garment showed a difference of approximately 2℃ compared to when it was not worn. It was reported that this sense of comfort remain unchanged over 15 minutes, providing evidence of the clothing’s effectiveness.

The Main Factor Influencing Coolness is Fan Placement! Fan-Equipped Jackets Created Through Customer Feedback

There are also products that can further enhance the functionality of the fan-equipped jackets used in outdoor work during the hot Japan summers. With a fan designed on the upper back, a particularly sweat-prone area, this fan-equipped clothing directs air to sweatier areas, maximizing evaporative cooling effects.

Since the fan is on the upper part of the garment, it doesn’t interfere with tools around the waist, allowing workers to smoothly take tools out while working. Additionally, since wind doesn’t directly contact the lower back, the area won’t become too cold, and the constant breeze around the neck area helps keep mosquitoes at bay, making it a highly effective option in agricultural settings.

Left: Ventilation outlets are included at the armpits, allowing for cooling under the arms.
Middle: Thanks to air jet ducts that ensure pathways for air, the breeze is directed straight toward the neck regardless of the wearer’s posture.
Right: Ideal for outdoor agricultural work where heat and insect bites are both concerns. (Photos courtesy of EIKO Co., Ltd.)

Fan-Equipped Clothing With Casual Designs, Perfect for Enjoying the Outdoors and Leisure Activities

In addition to models for outdoor and warehouse work, there are even models perfect for fishing, golf and other outdoor activities, as well as leisure activities, gardening and commuting to school or work. In considering different use cases, a focus has been placed on design aesthetics, and recently in addition to workwear-like models, the number of models with more sportier designs have increased.
These also utilize small battery-powered fans to generate airflow, cooling the body’s surface to maintain constant comfort. Not only do they help alleviate the heat, but they are also notable for their lower energy consumption compared to air conditioning, showing consideration for the environment.

Left: A design that can be worn casually in addition to at work. In recent years, it has become more common to see people in urban areas wearing these during the hot summer months.
Right: Fan worn on clothing. Some products come with Japanese-made batteries, and some are equipped with anti-fall mesh. (Photos courtesy of SUN-S Co., Ltd.)

Fan-equipped workwear is oriented not only toward agricultural and logistics workers, but product lineups even include products for women and children going outside into the heat, too. Expectations are set to see an even more diverse product lineup to make them more accessible for casual use by more people.

Wearable support systems are developed to allow people around the world to work and live more comfortably. In this blend of technology and ideas, what will be the next product? We’re looking forward to seeing it!