Author: Dr Leonard O'Sullivan, senior lecturer ergonomics and human factors, Department of Design and Manufacturing Technology, UL.
Irish engineers and researchers, in collaboration with partners across Europe, are set to develop exoskeletons to assist older adults in their daily lives.
Researchers at the Design Factors Research Group of the University of Limerick (UL) will team up with Cork-based company MTD Precision Engineering in the design and manufacture of an innovative assistive exoskeleton for older adults. The work will be carried out as part of the AXO-SUIT project, which is funded under the Ambient Assisted Living (AAL) Joint Programme and co-funded in Ireland by Enterprise Ireland.
The AXO-SUIT project brings together three universities and five companies across Europe that are active and experienced in the research and development of assistive devices. Co-ordinated by Aalborg University, Denmark, AXO-SUIT will run for three years with a total budget of almost €3 million. The project aims to combine expertise in engineering, robotics, ergonomics, and commercialisation to create a cutting-edge solution that meets older users’ functional needs at a feasible cost.
[caption id="attachment_20208" align="alignright" width="248"] Dr Leonard O’Sullivan, Design and Manufacturing Technology, UL, right, and Mr Sean Hayes, MD of MTD Precision Ltd, Cork[/caption]
Dr Leonard O’Sullivan, senior lecturer ergonomics and human factors in the Department of Design and Manufacturing Technology, leads the UL research team, and describes the importance of the project: “This is a very exciting project for our group, which will see our expertise in user centred design in health innovation make a significant impact to the quality of life of older adults.
"The AXO-SUIT project further builds on the Design Factors Research Group’s continued success in national and internationally funded medical device design research.”
MTD Precision Engineering is a company with a proven track record in research and development, engineering support and technical leadership in design and manufacturing. It serves a diverse range of sectors including pharmaceuticals, food and beverages, energy, medical device manufacture, electronics, automotive and aerospace.
Sean Hayes, managing director, is enthusiastic about the company’s role in the AXO-SUIT project: “Participation in innovation-driven European projects is a new and exciting departure for us. We feel that our history and experience of supporting companies in the life science sector – particularly during the product design and introduction stages – gives us the unique ability to contribute and participate in the AXO-SUIT project.”
According to the World Health Organisation, the proportion of the world's population aged over 60 years will double between 2000 and 2050, from approximately 11 per cent to 22 per cent . Limitations in physical functioning become more prevalent with advancing age, and have negative impacts on older adults’ quality of life [2, 3].
As such, there is great demand for assistive solutions to help individuals to maintain functional capacity and activity levels as they age, thereby preserving health, independence and wellbeing in later life. In addition, solutions which allow older adults to continue working in paid and/or voluntary capacities for longer will have broader socioeconomic benefits, as well as benefits for the individual [4, 5].
The elderly and disabled assistive devices market is rapidly expanding. Having been valued at €11 billion in 2012, it is expected to grow to reach an estimated value of €18.5 billion by 2019 . AXO-SUIT will aim to target the consumer aspect of this market, as a user-friendly and relatively inexpensive product.