Donald R. Peterson, Ph.D., NIU’s dean of the College of Engineering and Engineering Technology and mechanical engineering professor, was re-elected to a two-year term this month as chair of ASTM International’s exoskeletons and exosuits committee (F48). The committee’s task is to develop industry standards in the growing field of exoskeletons and exosuits.
An exoskeleton is a wearable device that can be powered or unpowered that, unlike a robot that is autonomous, can augment a human’s strength and/or capability. For example, it might allow a soldier to carry an extra 100 pounds of gear into battle. Or give a firefighter the ability to move a steel beam out of the way to rescue someone trapped in a building. These are just two real-life applications where exoskeletons are being used to augment a human strength. An exosuit, on the other hand, is made of soft material that bends with the body, and can also be powered or unpowered. Exosuits have been used to increase independence for people with mobility limitations, often referred to as a “wearable robot.”
However, with this cutting-edge technology, as with any new innovation, comes the need for standards to measure the performance and evaluate the effectiveness to ensure that humans are in fact safe when using these devices as personal protective equipment. Without standards, it’s unknown if the device will provide protection or have the potential to cause more harm.
The F48 committee was formed in September 2017 with representatives from countries across the world in industry, trade organizations and government agencies. Peterson is a researcher with more than 25 years of experience in biomechanical engineering and medical research. He has studies how cells, tissue, organs and the human body respond to long-term exposure to use of tools and devices. His research has led to the development of new technologies and systems such as personal protective equipment, devices to assist patients with rehabilitation, exoskeletons for use in the workplace, wearable sensors, novel surgical and dental instruments and smart medical devices for home patient care. Which is exactly why his expertise plays an important role in the development of these standards that benefit manufacturers of exoskeletons and exosuits by providing design specifications.
“ASTM International committees, especially in their formative years, depend heavily on strong and vibrant leadership to keep them focused on their stated objectives,” said Pat Picariello, director of developmental operations for ASTM International. “In Don Peterson, the Committee on Exoskeletons and Exosuits has an ideal combination of technical acumen and leadership skillset to help drive the development of high quality, market relevant standards for this burgeoning sector.”
“Over the first two years of our work, we’ve made significant headway in the area of international standards that manufacturers across the world are already implementing,” said Peterson. “It’s allowed for many new innovations. It comes down to improving the quality of life for people everywhere. It’s an exciting time to be involved in this realm.”
In addition to his involvement with ASTM International, he has been active on Capitol Hill helping legislators understand the technology and the need for standards to ensure worker safety. He also serves as a U.S. delegate on the International Standards Organization (ISO) Technical Committee on Human Exposure to Mechanical Vibration and Shock.
Peterson has published more than 115 peer-reviewed scholarly works and as the Editor-in-Chief for “The Biomedical Engineering Handbook”, published by CRC Press.
ASTM International’s mission is: “Committed to serving global societal needs, ASTM International positively impacts public health and safety, consumer confidence, and overall quality of life. We integrate consensus standards – developed with our international membership of volunteer technical experts – and innovative services to improve lives… Helping our world work better.” For more information on this committee, watch this short video: https://www.astm.org/video/exoskeletons.