At the 2024 European Robotics Forum in Rimini, Italy, researchers from the Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia (IIT) presented the latest advancements from the SOPHIA project. These innovations include collaborative robots, wearable devices, and feedback mechanisms designed to alleviate the strain of overhead tasks, support heavy lifting, and alert users to ergonomic risks, ultimately preventing Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSDs) in industrial settings.

The SOPHIA project, initiated in 2020 and coordinated by Arash Ajoudani of IIT’s Human-Robot Interfaces and Interaction (HRI2) lab, aimed to develop next-generation collaborative robots and intelligent wearables to enhance worker ergonomics and manufacturing flexibility for mass customization. Over four years, the project engaged 12 partners from six European countries, resulting in groundbreaking technologies tailored for industrial environments.

Key achievements of the SOPHIA project include real-time monitoring tools for proactive ergonomics assessment, agile and collaborative CoBots capable of adapting to dynamic tasks, and advanced wearables serving both as feedback systems and wearable robots (wearBots) for joint support.

The ergonomics monitoring tools are pivotal in preventing MSDs by analyzing worker posture and environmental conditions in real-time, providing timely guidance and assistance to enhance ergonomic actions.

SOPHIA CoBots, equipped with advanced human state monitoring and environment perception capabilities, offer agility and adaptability to collaborate seamlessly with human workers in various industrial tasks. The MObile Collaborative Robot Assistant (MOCA) enables autonomous task execution while also facilitating human-robot collaboration.

The range of SOPHIA wearables includes feedback mechanisms alerting workers to suboptimal postures and challenging conditions, guiding them toward healthier alternatives through vibrotactile, skin stretch, and kinesthetic modalities. WearBots provide targeted support to alleviate strain on elbows, knees, lower back areas, and serve as dual-arm supernumerary aids.

The efficacy of SOPHIA technologies was validated through industrial use cases at Hankamp and HIDRIA, where workers tested the innovations in real-world scenarios. This collaborative approach ensured continuous refinement of SOPHIA technologies based on feedback from frontline workers, process engineers, and productivity specialists, promising transformative impacts on manufacturing productivity and worker safety.

By Impact Lab