Lowe’s partnered with Virginia Tech to develop a lightweight exosuit to offer extra support to store employees., a wearable robotic suit with lift-assist technology. The suit, made for Lowe’s employees, is currently being piloted in a store in Christianburg, Virginia.
The wearable robotic suit helps employees lift and move products through the store, keeping them avoid muscle fatigue associated with repetitive motions.
The idea for the suit came out of Lowe’s Innovation Labs, where studies found that some employees spent a large portion of their workday lifting and moving freight. In order to make these daily tasks easier and more efficient, the Innovation Labs partnered with the university to develop one of the first applications for robotic exosuits.
“Our employees are, and will remain, one of our key competitive advantages,” Lowe’s Innovation Labs Executive Director Kyle Nel told FierceRetail. “We are committed to exploring opportunities to improve the workplace experience and support and enhance their ability to perform their required job functions. The exosuit is one of many ways we accomplish this goal.”
How does it make lifting easier? The exosuit absorbs energy and delivers it back to the employee, enabling them to exert less force to complete certain movements. As the employee bends and stands, the suit’s carbon fiber legs and back act like a taut bow and arrow, helping the person to spring back up with greater ease. As a result, heavy objects, such as a five-gallon bucket of paint, will feel lighter.
Lowe’s will continue to harness the power of robotics to help both employees and customers. For example, the company’s LoweBot, an autonomous retail service robot, helps free up associates to spend more time with customers.
According to Nel, Lowe’s wants to help people love where they live and that mentality is applied to employees. The exosuit helps employees feel less fatigued so that ultimately, they have a better work experience. Just as LoweBot helps free up associates to spend more time with customers, the exosuit is an example of how soft robotics can help employees work efficiently and free up time to deliver the project advice that customers know and love.
“Our intent is to always go beyond proof-of-concept, but we don’t know what we don’t know. Through our Christiansburg pilot, we hope to learn how exosuits can empower our associates in new ways. We’re also conducting rigorous studies to learn what parts of the exosuit work and what parts don’t. From there, we’ll ultimately make a decision about how to move forward,” Nel said.