A handful of employees at a Lowe’s store in Virginia have traded in their uniforms for something designed to help lighten the load—exoskeletons. The home improvement company and Virginia Tech joined forces to develop what they dubbed an “exosuit—a wearable robotic suit with lift-assist technology—for Lowe’s employees,” according to a Lowe’s press release.
Initiated by Lowe’s Innovation Labs, the company’s disruptive technology hub, the project was founded on the idea of providing “special superpowers to employees” by helping them lift and move product through the store more efficiently and to aid against muscle fatigue that can occur from a repetitive motion. The exosuit was developed with Virginia Tech assistant professor Dr. Alan Asbeck and a team of eight graduate and undergraduate students from the university.
“Our employees ensure our stores are always ready for customers,” says Kyle Nel, executive director of Lowe’s Innovation Labs. “As a way to support them, we found a unique opportunity to collaborate with Virginia Tech to develop one of the first retail applications for assistive robotic exosuits.”
The company and university worked together to design and develop the exoskeleton prototype after months of lab testing. The result “was a lightweight wearable exosuit that reinforces proper lifting form and is intended to make lifting heavy objects easier,” according to Lowe’s. It accomplishes this by absorbing energy and delivering it back to the user, allowing them to exert less force to complete a movement.
The first four suits are all in use by the stocking team at the Christiansburg, Virginia, store. In the months that follow, Virigina Tech and Lowe’s will assess the physical impact of the suit.