ICON bionic joint project

01 December 2015

This is an exciting new partnership between the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation (Fraunhofer IPA) and the Auckland Bioengineering Institute (ABI) at the University of Auckland to develop human joint sensing and actuation technology for human exoskeletons. Novel sensing and computational modelling from the University of Auckland will be combined with Fraunhofer IPA’s high torque actuation and monitoring technology to address urgent preventive and therapeutic needs in an ageing society. The ICON Bionic Joint is a 3-year project co-funded by Fraunhofer Gesellschaft, Germany, and the New Zealand Government that will develop and strengthen the research relationship between IPA and the University of Auckland, leading to growth in joint capability and commercial opportunities for industry partners.

ICON Bionic Joint Project

Distinguished Professor Peter Hunter, Director of the Auckland Bioengineering Institute says “We are delighted and honored to be invited by the Fraunhofer organization to participate as equal partners with them in this exciting collaboration. It is a recognition of the outstanding musculoskeletal research in the ABI that includes both biophysically based modeling and innovative sensor technologies. Bringing these together with Fraunhofer’s actuator technologies offers exciting opportunities for new personalized assistive devices that help avoid workplace injuries or improve the quality of life for people with existing upper limb injuries. It also fits very well with the aims of our new Government funded Medical Technologies Centre of Research Excellence (MedTech CoRE) as an example of translating university research into healthcare outcomes that also provide internationally linked business opportunities for New Zealand.”


Project Background

This New Zealand - German collaboration will enable the first generation of highly integrated sensing and actuation technology for human exoskeletons. The latest flexible polymer-based soft sensing technology will be combined with computational models and high torque actuation and control technology to develop a novel, light-weight upper arm exoskeleton. The exoskeleton will be designed for reducing workplace musculoskeletal injuries and accelerating the recovery of upper arm function in stroke survivors, both of which have tremendous impact in our ageing society.

Developing and strengthening the relationship with IPA is a key outcome of the ICON Bionic Joint project and we anticipate that it will lead to growth in joint capability and new opportunities, in terms of research and commercialisation. Where possible we will seek to strengthen links between NZ and the wider German research community. This new collaboration will be fostered by:

  • Co-supervision of PhD students with yearly travel to spend time within research labs at the University of Auckland and Fraunhofer IPA.
  • Arranged meetings at conferences in New Zealand (NZ Healthcare congress) and Germany (Medica).
  • Application to Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Staff Exchange (RISE) to facilitate
exchange between academics and students

Associate Professor Thor Besier
Associate Professor Thor Besier

Associate Professor Thor Besier from the Auckland Bioengineering Institute will be the principal investigator from the University of Auckland. Associate Professor Besier is an internationally recognised leader in the field of musculoskeletal biomechanics and also leads the Assistive Technologies Theme for the newly established MedTech Centre of Research Excellence. Associate Professor Besier will be supported by Distinguished Professor Peter Hunter, who will also be on the Executive Board of ICON. The ICON Bionic Joint will fund two postdoctoral researchers at the University of Auckland and train two PhD students to develop a wearable arm sleeve and novel controller to measure and monitor upper arm motion.

Fraunhofer Gesellschaft (commonly known simply as Fraunhofer) is Europe’s largest application-oriented research organisation. Fraunhofer IPA is one of the organisation’s many institutes.



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