Every day, NIU’s College of Engineering and Engineering Technology (CEET) celebrates the many ways that biomechanics improves the quality of life for humans. National Biomechanics Day (originally planned for April 8, 2020, and now postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic) is a national day of celebration across the globe for high school students and teachers.
Donald R. Peterson, Ph.D., NIU’s dean of CEET, mechanical engineering professor, along with Professors Ting Xia, Ph.D., and Sahar Vahabzadeh, Ph.D., of NIU’s mechanical engineering dept. and Asst. Professor Jaejin Hwang, Ph.D. of NIU’s industrial and systems engineering dept. are actively involved with biomechanical engineering research. These professors have several research studies in progress, for example, on how vibration from hand tools impacts human health; on how the use of exoskeletons impact worker performance; on how synthetic materials can be used as tissue substitute; and on the ergonomic impacts of the extended use of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) headsets in simulation training.
Professor Peterson has more than 25 years of experience in human biomechanics research, which has involved the study of how cells, tissue, organs, and the human body respond to biomechanical exposures, such as vibration from power tool use or repetitive motions from doing work. As an exoskeleton researcher and developer, Peterson was re-elected in 2019 to a second two-year term as Chair of ASTM International’s Committee F48 on “Exoskeletons and Exosuits”, whose task is to develop industry standards for these technologies. An exoskeleton is a wearable device that can be powered or unpowered and can augment a human’s strength and/or capability or increase independence for people with mobility limitations. For example, it might allow a soldier to carry an extra 100 pounds of gear into battle or it may 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 human strength.
Peterson has been active on Capitol Hill helping legislators understand the technology and the need for standards to ensure worker and patient 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 and is the Editor-in-Chief for “The Biomedical Engineering Handbook”, published by CRC Press, that details many important aspects of human biomechanics.
Professor Hwang conducts tests on the use of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) headsets in simulation training. Simulation training is a beneficial tool for those who work in dangerous settings such as first responders, medical personnel, or military. It can put them in the middle of real-life scenarios while keeping them safe in a virtual/augmented environment. His studies have been conducted with data collected in the Wellness and Ergonomics Lab at NIU and published in the journal Applied Ergonomics.
“Unlike in a traditional desktop setting, there is a lack of standard or ergonomic guidelines for VR/AR usage. Our results identify the optimal location, size, and distance of the target in VR/AR. This information would be useful for designers to consider to reduce the discomfort or fatigue of users,” said Hwang. “It could allow users to train for longer periods of time with less strain or pain to their neck and shoulders.”