Technology

Colas rolls out exoskeleton for road operatives

15 March 2020

A new exoskeleton designed to give power assistance to operatives working on levelling with a rake during roadworks to the UK has been introduced by contractor Colas.

The Exopush has been developed by Colas with French-based firm RB3D, which specialises in “cobots” and exoskeletons.

The Colas UK team took delivery of the first two Exopush units in autumn last year for training and trials, before they were deployed on live sites in January this year, ahead of a rollout across the UK.

Protected by three international patents, the Exopush improves the ergonomics of raking – a job that has not changed much for over a century – and is designed to reduce fatigue and physical stress experienced by operatives. 

The user handles an electric actuator which helps push or pull the tool, while the weight is taken up by a harness and link to the ground via a force leg attached to the shoe with a footplate.  

The kit weighs 8.2kg, with a runtime of five to seven hours from each of two electric batteries per unit. The carrying kit takes under two minutes to get ready, according to Colas. It can push or pull up to 50kg and Colas has claimed it reduces repetitive movement up to fivefold for the user. 

The average posture for raking involves a worker’s back being bent at a 53-degree angle. The Exopush straightens to a more upright 21 degrees while reducing twisting of the trunk and neck extension yet keeping full freedom of movement.  

Meanwhile, in-house studies on heart rate show a 124-144 pulse rate per minute generally in raking activity. With Exopush this stays in the range of 124-128 pulse rate per minute. 

Carl Fergusson, CEO of Colas UK, said: “The arrival of Exopush for trials and now live operations has definitely generated positive impact in our organisation – for the user and the team as a whole. Productivity gains and increased efficiency is a target for any business in order to ensure direct cost savings. Lost time from work due to back problems can be reduced with the use of the levelling exoskeleton, ensuring this target can be met. 

“We are constantly mindful of our prime objective for the innovation of Exopush – to facilitate the work of our skilled operatives and revolutionise their wellbeing. Our significant investment and field trials reflect the strength of collaboration with our supply chain on innovation in all areas of safety and delivery.”