It’s not exactly RoboCop or Iron Man, but it’s no secret that the military are working on high-tech exoskeletons for troops to increase their strength and endurance – and two Pittsburgh startups are helping.
Vigilant Technologies and Interphase Materials are one of the few teams recently selected by the U.S. Army to participate in the first phase of the Exosense project. The Army Applications Laboratory wants the team to develop a system that interprets exoskeleton sensor data on a handheld device. For example, providing a squad leader with real-time information on how individual soldiers are holding up can be critical to completing a mission.
“How do we take the feedback from the exoskeleton suits and provide the squad leaders with key performance indicators?” Explains Andy Chan, CEO of Vigilant Technologies, the challenge. “You may have to pull certain squads out of the field to avoid casualties. Or do you find out: ‘Do we have enough fuel in the tank to reach the next destination – or should we rest?’ “
If successful, this could result in a contract worth up to $ 2 million to develop a working prototype.
Oakland-based Vigilant develops technologies for the private sector.
“We work on prevention and help ‘industrial athletes’ to reduce injuries, especially in musculoskeletal disorders” such as back pain and shoulder pain.
“Industrial athlete” is a term that Chan uses to cover all types of labor-intensive workers, including people with physically demanding manual jobs and even nurses and health workers.
The small portable device from Vigilant is attached to the back of the shirt collar. It can help improve ergonomic behavior with haptic (sensory) feedback from the device that logs unsafe behavior and offers individual coaching tips.
“It’s like a lot of soccer players wear a heart rate monitor so they know how to optimize their performance and reduce injuries as they practice,” explains Chan.
Like many companies, Vigilant has risen to the Covid challenge by developing ways to check for increased skin temperatures. In combination with a short, five-second symptom survey, this is a good way of measuring whether an employee should be released to work or should go home.
“We worked with Giant Eagle and the JCC (Jewish Community Center) who are using it for their day camps and are considering using it for all of their locations,” says Chan.
“Vigilant Technologies’ mass symptom screening tool is helping our families in the early childhood and day camps feel safer during these challenging times and has streamlined health and safety protocols for the entire JCC,” said Jason Kunzman, chief program Officer at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh.
Vigilant Technologies is based in Oakland and has five employees (with several part-time employees) but is hiring and expanding. The company is a Carnegie Mellon University spin-off that has grown through Innovation Works’ AlphaLab Accelerator program.
Project partner Interphase Materials has worked on a number of projects, from improving the efficiency of buildings and power plants to keeping underwater surfaces clean. This military challenge will leverage their bioengineering experience, says Noah Snyder, CEO of Interphase Materials based in Harmar Township.
“Interphase Materials was founded after a technology was originally developed to improve neural prostheses,” says Snyder. “We are very grateful to the Army for giving us the opportunity to help, and we are very excited to be working with a great company that we ‘grew up’ with in the AlphaLab Gear Accelerator program.”
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