They still exist: Professions with a high proportion of hard physical work. Emergency medical technicians or welders in the shipbuilding industry, for example. Physically demanding motions however can cause muscular and skeleton diseases, which typically are felt in the second half of the worker’s life. The SIRKA research project aims at developing a sensor suit that helps to identify physical overload of the musculoskeletal system and help those concerned to develop alternative motion patterns. A developer team managed by Budelmann Elektronik GmbH, a company focusing on embedded systems, and the German Research Centre for Artificial Intelligence (DFKI) in Bremen.
The suit integrates about 20 sensors – mostly MEMS-based inertial sensors which are connected through a three-wire data and power supply bus to a data acquisition unit carried at the worker’s belt. It is also planned to embed pressure sensors into the worker’s shoes, explained DFKI professor Udo Frese. "This would enable us to measure the weight of the objects carried".
The sensor suit will be tested at the Meyer shipyard in Papenburg, and at Johanniter Unfallhilfe, a large accident rescue organisation in Germany. The research project is divided into two phases. In the first phase, the suit will be used as a diagnosis tool. In this function, the data acquisition unit will store the test person’s physical motions in detail; these data are stored on an SD memory card. Then, the motion patterns along with the physical stress they create, will be analysed and individual alternatives will be developed. During the second phase of the project, the suit will be programmed with threshold values for each sensor and trigger an alarm signal. Typically, this will be issued as a vibration signal, says professor Frese. "In the noisy environment of a shipyard, you could miss an acoustical signal.
The project is in part funded by the German federal ministry for education and research (BMBF) as part of its research program "Human-Machine interaction amidst demographic change".