Lab Spotlight

NIST Sets Standards for Exoskeleton Innovations

Dept. of Commerce

Long imagined in science fiction, exoskeletons that can dramatically improve and extend human performance are becoming a reality for workers on manufacturing floors, warfighters, and individuals with mobility impairments. By developing standards that address the safety and performance of exoskeletons, the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s (NIST) leadership is providing this emerging industry with the assurance it needs to innovate. 

NIST was instrumental in standing up an international committee that is working to define standards for exoskeletons (as well as exosuits, another type of wearable system with similar attributes). Despite rapid progress in the marketplace, there is currently only a limited patchwork of standards that address the safety and performance of exoskeletons, and few methods for testing how well these technologies meet those standards. NIST is helping to close this standards gap in order to boost growth and innovation in the sector and make exoskeletons as common in the real world as they are on the screen. 

In factories and warehouses, workers are using exoskeletons to reduce the chances of injury from repetitive and strenuous tasks. The military is experimenting with them to prevent injuries and extend the strength and endurance of the warfighter. Patients who have suffered from strokes and spinal injuries are using them to increase their mobility and independence. To accelerate the acceptance and use of these technologies, there must be standards to evaluate their safety and performance. Better standards also foster competition by allowing manufacturers, including new startups, to demonstrate the performance of their products using agreed-upon metrics. 

NIST brings to this effort deep experience in industrial robotics, advanced materials, electronic engineering, battery systems, artificial intelligence, and cybersecurity. Using this expertise, NIST researchers are helping industry safely extend human performance by providing technical guidance and leadership in standards development. The next step is for NIST to develop methods for measuring performance against exoskeleton standards. For instance, NIST is developing a sensor-laden mannequin—akin to a crash-test dummy—that will be used to measure the forces and stresses that an exoskeleton puts on the human body.

The original NIST article can be found on the NIST website, here:

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