NSC Labor Division news Research/studies Slips, trips and falls Wholesale and retail trade Injury prevention Robot Workers

Researchers developing robots that can detect slip and fall hazards in retail spaces

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Photo: Cagri Kilic, postdoctoral research fellow in the WVU Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources, shows off a rover that he developed to research slips in planetary rovers. Two other researchers are applying this same technology to improve safety in retail and wholesale settings. (WVU Photo/Matt Sunday)

Morgantown, WV — Researchers at West Virginia University are working on a project that uses robots to help reduce slips and falls in retail workplaces.

According to a WVU press release, wholesale and retail workers suffer around 570,000 injuries a year. Grocery/drug stores are among the workplaces with the highest nonfatal injury rates.

The project builds off previous WVU research that estimated wheel slippage on planetary rovers. That research led to the development of a method that allows the rovers, using nonvisual information, to maneuver over difficult terrain.

For this current project, Jason Gross and Yu Gu, associate professors in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at WVU, and their students are using those robots to detect risks on retail and wholesale floors.

“We have this ability, as the robot drives, to monitor the onboard sensors and compare the wheel speed versus the actual speed of the robot,” Gross said in the release. “We can infer slip and can deploy a slip meter occasionally to calibrate that.”

 

The researchers will begin working with a “testbed” that mimics a retail environment. They then plan to test the robots, with onboard cameras, in retail spaces.

“There is a significant problem with slip and fall in retail spaces,” said Gross, who’s also interim chair of the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. “So, we’re trying to figure out a way to use robots to provide situational awareness, monitor risks and provide walkability maps.”

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