Futuristic robotic “exosuits” will be worn by workers on the Forth bridges to lessen the likelihood of injuries.
Transport Scotland is kitting out staff with Eksovests — an external metal frame designed to mirror the elements of the human skeletal structure.
Powered by a series of springs, they support workers’ arms to assist them with tasks performed from chest height to overhead, providing between 2.2kg to 6.8kg of lift assistance per arm.
While not quite the matching the technology of exosuits of the Alien movie franchise, it will make lifting objects easier.
Most of the tasks being carried out on all three of the Forth bridges require the use of the upper body, making the staff the ideal Eksovest triallists.
Mark Arndt, operating company representative for the Forth Bridges Unit, said: “Integrating technology into everyday tasks to reduce the risk of on-the-job injuries to my operatives, is the driving force behind trialling the EskoVest.
“The motorised skeletal vest not only has the capability to physically enhance the safety of our people, but it aims to lessen fatigue which will lead to an increase in productivity and a reduction in sickness absence.
“Our operatives have been wearing the vest to carry out a range of tasks including overhead grinding and welding to repair joints in the Forth Road Bridge, installing underdeck access, installing street lighting and laying out and removing traffic management.
“These tasks require our operatives to manually handle weighted objects, so by providing them with a robotic vest that supports their skeletal structure and arms, I’m hoping that we can reduce the weight that they are managing and therefore the potential for injuries.”
The vest weighs just 4.3kg, so is designed to be comfortable for workers to wear in all conditions whilst still allowing them the freedom to move.
“We are still at the early stages of this exciting trial which began at the start of April 2019 but we’re hopeful that this wearable technology will enhance the wellbeing of our staff by making their jobs easier,” Mr Arndt added.
“This complements the range of other technological improvements being rolled out at the Forth Road Bridge as part of Transport Scotland’s drive for new innovations, including high definition VR models, wearable inspection tech, real-time big data harvesting and machine learning.”
One of the employees who has trialled the EksoVest so far is Blair Masterton, a rigger at the Forth Road Bridge.
He said: “This is definitely a good piece of kit in the right work situation. It’s easy to put on and there is a slight assist when lifting staging boards and other heavy items.
The feedback gained from this trial will help to develop the technology, while the project is also being watched with anticipation by other businesses within partner organisation Amey to see the potential for utilising it for other tasks, such as waste collection and the installation of scaffolding.
In the movie, Aliens, workers strap themselves into an exosuit power loader to carry out heavy lifting work. The titular alien is eventually defeated using one of the machines.