Dr. Ornwipa Thamsuwan (PhD) demonstrates use of a mechanical exoskeleton at USask. (Photo: Chris Morin)

USask ergonomics researchers study exoskeletons for farmers

A team of researchers at the University of Saskatchewan (USask) were recently featured in a Saskatoon StarPhoenix article for their work in using technology to help make farming a less back-breaking profession.

Dr. Catherine Trask (PhD), a Canada research chair in ergonomics and musculoskeletal health, and research fellow Dr. Ornwipa Thamsuwan (PhD) are working to measure the effectiveness of mechanical exoskeletons in farm work.

The exoskeleton technology, which is already being used in industries such as warehousing and auto manufacturing, essentially store the body’s own energy as it bends forward, then provide a boost on the way back up.

According to the feature, Thamsuwan spent the 2019 growing season visiting farms and livestock operations and having actual producers test the harnesses on day-to-day tasks such as shovelling grain or repairing machinery. She collected data from 15 farmers using sensors that track muscle activity and posture. She also gathered feedback directly from the farmers themselves.

Thamsuwan said as many as 60 per cent of farmers already experience back pain over the course of a typical year. She said that number is likely to rise as the average farmer’s age continues to increase, meaning more operations might have a business case for using exoskeletons.

Read more about this research: https://thestarphoenix.com/technology/science/sask-ergonomics-researchers-study-exoskeletons-for-farmers