INNOVATION. Exoskeletons for firefighters, we explain how it could work


Will firefighters soon be « augmented men »? The SDIS of Meurthe et Moselle and the University of Lorraine are working on it. Together, they seek to develop one or more exoskeletons to deal with some of the missions of firefighters.

The firefighter of the future will be an augmented man. Don’t go imagining Iron Man or any other Marvel superhero fighting the flames. The exoskeleton currently being researched in Nancy (Meurthe-et-Moselle) is aimed first, as explained by Lionel Robert, commander at SDIS 54 (Departmental Fire and Rescue Service) « to respond to certain missions to strengthen endurance and precision and to preserve the health capital of the firefighter.« 

« We thought about the missions that deserve to be sailed » he adds, « and for which we would need short-term solutions: extrication, stretcher-carrying, transport on the back of a man in a steep environment. »

Currently, there are « passive » exoskeletons whose purpose is to limit the occurrence of musculoskeletal disorders. The study is conducted by the SDIS 54 and several laboratories of theUniversity of Lorraine : the LORIA (Lorraine Research Laboratory in Computer Science and its Applications); the DevAH laboratory affiliated with STAPS, sports and movement sciences with expertise in biomechanics, and PErSEUs, for the cognitive ergonomics and user acceptability part, seeks to go further.

It’s a real technological challenge

Pauline Maurice, CNRS researcher at Loria (CNRS, Inria, University of Lorraine)

The project, which began two years ago, after Major Lionel Robert visited INRS (National Institute for Research and Security), is still in its exploratory phase. At LORIA, Pauline Maurice, researcher CNRS at Loria (CNRS, Inria, University of Lorraine) initially focuses on characterizing gestures. She explains to us:This characterization is done in collaboration with Guillaume Mornieux from DevAH and Sophie Lemonnier from PErSEUs. We started working on extrication. For us, the imperatives are to find the area of ​​the body that needs to be assisted as a priority and to identify the constraints in terms of bulk and movement. We are not on an industrial ground where the exoskeleton comes to relieve a repetitive gesture. Here, there is a great variability of gestures. »

The scientist goes to the field with her team to analyze gestures during specific sessions. « The postures will be different depending on the action. If the firefighter has to cut a car that is on the road or in a ditch on the side, the gestures are not the same. The stretcher will be carried out according to the weight of the victim, the configuration of the premises: stairs, crampedness, etc. Currently, the exoskeletons that work best are those dedicated to a single gesture. It is first necessary to identify the gestures to be assisted as a priority. You also need a system that is compatible with outdoor operations.

IYou have to take bad weather into account, for example. It is also necessary to keep the agility to be able to get out quickly in case of danger. In the case of an extrication, they have their fire gear. It must therefore also be compatible with their equipment. There is a set of constraints. The more you want a versatile system to assist several different movements, the heavier the exoskeleton is likely to be. Because you need joints and motors for each of the directions. It is a real technological challenge.« 

LORIA is not a designer of exoskeletons, but it can help establish the specifications to stick as best as possible to the missions of firefighters, as Pauline Maurice explains: « First, we made the characterization of the gesture. This has allowed us to identify a few market exoskeletons that could go in the right direction. We tested one last summer, to see its benefits and its limits. This is what will allow us to establish more precise specifications of the needs« .

« A modular exoskeleton« which would allow firefighters to be truly »increased » in various situations is not for now. A first prototype could perhaps be envisaged within four or five years. In any case, that is what Commander Lionel Robert of SDIS 54 hopes .

The goal is that what can emerge here can be useful to everyone in France, in Europe, and even internationally.

Lionel Robert, commander at SDIS 54

Lionel Robert, commander at SDIS 54 is optimistic:  » It is in our DNA to include new technologies and new missions in our practices. The drones arrived fairly quickly at the fire department. The first feedback we have is quite positive. Moreover, we share with our fellow firefighters on the rest of the French territory this experience that we lead. The goal is that what can emerge here can be useful to everyone in France, in Europe, and even internationally.. »

From now on, the project could be brought to the European level. This would make it possible to accelerate research to develop cutting-edge technology to serve firefighters and therefore users.


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