Retail giant Lowe has joined hands with Virginia Tech to develop a lift-assist technology in the form of a futuristic exosuit. Intended to offer employees extra support while moving products around in the company’s 1,800 or so stores, the powerful yet lightweight contraption is currently being trialed at Lowe’s Christiansburg, VA outlet.
For the project, researchers from Lowe’s Innovation Labs came together with Alan Asbeck and his robotics team at Virginia Tech College of Engineering’s Department of Mechanical Engineering. The exosuit, according to the scientists, will not only help reduce fatigue retail employees often experience, but also enhance efficiency in the workplace. Speaking about the technology, Asbeck said:
Over the past couple of years, human assistive devices have become an area of interest. Our technology is different in that it includes soft and flexible elements, and our approach is unique in that we are putting our prototypes in a real-world environment for an extended period of time.
Central to the design are two flexible carbon fiber rods that work similar to a bow and arrow, in that they store the kinetic energy produced when the wearer kneels or bends down to arrange bulky products. The exosuit then releases the energy when the user stands back up, making the movement easier and less strenuous. At present, a prototype of the device is being tested out by employees of the stocking team at the Christiansburg store. Kyle Nel of the company’s Innovation Labs added:
Lowe’s is committed to exploring opportunities that improve the workplace experience. As a way to support our employees, we found a unique opportunity to collaborate with Virginia Tech to develop one of the first retail applications for robotic exosuits.
To make the exosuit flexible and lightweight without compromising its structural robustness, the scientists used soft substances as the primary material. Special attention was given to the device’s mechanics as well as ergonomics. Following preliminary testing, the company will gauge its efficacy in improving the workers’ productivity, while also looking for ways to scale the technology up. Joe Sirico, manager of Christiansburg outlet, went on to say:
This is a way to help keep our associates from being as worn out… This project really pairs a company like ours that has been doing business and has been a part of this community for many, many years with an institution like Tech, and takes those two worlds and smashes them together, and we both come out stronger.
Source: Virginia Tech