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AI taps into ‘physical wisdom’

A research team in Canada is using artificial intelligence (AI) to help reduce common injuries picked up by workers in the construction industry.

The University of Waterloo study used sensors and AI software to pinpoint the body movements of experienced bricklayers and stone masons, so that they can be incorporated into training programmes for apprentices.

“The people in skilled trades learn or acquire a kind of physical wisdom that they can’t even articulate,” explained Carl Haas, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Waterloo. “It’s pretty amazing and pretty important.”

The team learned master masons – for example, get the job done swiftly and efficiently – but not by adhering to ‘standard ergonomic rules’; one thing they do is bend their backs less than would be expected.

“They’re basically doing the work twice as fast with half the effort – and they’re doing it with higher quality,” added Haas, who leads the research with Eihab Abdel-Rahman, a systems design engineering professor at Waterloo. “It’s really intriguing.”

The Waterloo team is now developing sensors suits that can provide apprentices with instant feedback so they can change body positions to alleviate physical stress.

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