School of Electronic Engineering and Computer Science

Centre for Advanced Robotics awarded funding to develop novel safe assistive robots for industry

Dr Ildar Farkhatdinov, Lecturer in Robotics at Queen Mary University of London, has been awarded £466,000 in funding by the EPSRC for a new three year project: Automatic Posture and Balance Support for Supernumerary Robotic Limbs. This project aims to develop unique techniques to address the ergonomics and safety of supernumerary robotic limbs.

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What are Supernumerary Robotic Limbs?

Supernumerary robotic limbs are a wearable robotic-manipulators to provide a user with additional mechanical arms. They are used to augment the human body and give the user extra mobility and handling capabilities. These systems are particularly of use in industries where workers are regularly handling heavy or awkward objects, which can often result in individuals developing harmful working postures, potentially leading to musculoskeletal disorders and occupational injuries.

About the Project

The project aims to develop a system that promotes a healthy posture when using supernumerary robotic limbs for carrying loads. The research team will develop a unique wearable robotic system that will support the user’s posture and balance and integrate its control with the supernumerary robotic limbs for material handling. The project is of great importance for UK academic research advancement. Several leading research groups overseas carry developments in on multiple aspects of design, control and application of assistive supernumerary robotics but little research has been conducted in mechatronic design and ergonomics of assistive supernumerary robots at the national level. Overcoming this important shortcoming, the proposed project is a vital step towards the advancement of UK research and technology in the field of assistive robotics.

Large and medium-size manufacturing businesses in the UK are willing to introduce robotics to assist their workforce to improve efficiency and quality of workspace and to reduce risks of work-related injuries. However, supernumerary and wearable robotic systems development is not mature, and several important research challenges are still not addressed. Among them, ergonomics and safety in operations with supernumerary robotic limbs, which is the key contribution of this project. Importantly, UK manufacturing faces a problem with productivity and exit from the EU may lead to a shortage of labour in this sector. This project will provide a solution to improve productivity by introducing assistive robotic supernumerary limbs and will reduce the risks associated with staff shortages through supporting the worker’s welfare and safety with the help of the ergonomic posture assistive system.

The research activities will be conducted at the Centre for Advanced Robotics at Queen Mary (ARQ) and will be led by Dr Ildar Farkhatdinov, head of the Human Augmentation and Interactive Robotics Team. Research collaborators include Professor Kaspar Althoefer (QMUL), Professor Etienne Burdet (Imperial College London) and Dr Stuart Miller (QMUL). The industrial partners of the project are Shadow Robot Company (a world-leading robotic systems developer), Ocado Technologies (developer of automated warehouses and robots for retail industry) and AdeptErgonomics (an ergonomics consultancy specialising in workplace ergonomics).

About ARQ (the Centre for Advanced Robotics at Queen Mary)

ARQ is a major advanced robotics research centre in the UK. It was established in 2016 as a joint venture between the School of Electronic Engineering and Computer Science and the School of Engineering and Materials Science of Queen Mary University of London. Now, the centre includes over 20 academics researching in various aspects of robotics, mechatronics, control, artificial and biological intelligence and biomedical engineering.

Find out more about the ARQ: https://www.robotics.qmul.ac.uk/