Working the floor of a big-box store requires heavy lifting and moving bulky products around. Employees are at risk for muscle fatigue from repetitive motion or even injury from improper lifting techniques.
The home improvement giant Lowe’s has developed technology to offer employees support. Lowe’s Innovation Labs worked in partnership with a team at Virginia Tech to develop an exosuit, a lightweight assistive garment that makes lifting heavy objects easier by reinforcing proper lifting form.
The Virginia Tech team was led by Dr. Alan Asbeck, assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, and included graduate and undergraduate students from the school’s Assistive Robotics Laboratory. The exoskeleton they developed works by absorbing energy and delivering it back to the wearer when needed most, enabling employees to exert less force when extra power is required.
The base of the suit is a soft textile that conforms to the individual, comfortable and flexible, featuring carbon fiber in the legs and back. When the wearer bends, the fiber stores energy. As the person stands back up, the suit releases energy, much like a taut bow releasing an arrow. The burst of energy makes heavy objects feel significantly lighter and easier to lift.
The exosuit is currently being tested by the stocking team at the Lowe’s store in Christianburg, Va. The research team will assess the workers’ experiences and determine future applications. For more details, visit www.lowesinnovationlabs.com.