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Exosuit Designed To Help Retail Employees
November 21, 2017

Virginia Tech and Lowe’s have joined forces to empower Lowe’s employees.

The pair have collaborated to develop an exosuit — a wearable suit with lift-assist technology — currently in pilot at Lowe’s Christiansburg, Virginia, store. The lightweight exosuit is designed to help employees lift and move product through the store more efficiently.

Lowe’s Innovation Labs, the disruptive technology hub for Lowe’s, worked with robotics expert Alan Asbeck, an assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering in the Virginia Tech College of Engineering who specializes in building wearable technology, to collaboratively design a prototype of an exosuit employees could wear to help make lifting products easier.

Asbeck, along with four undergraduate and four graduate students in the Assistive Robotics Laboratory, has since been designing a soft, lightweight exosuit intended to reduce the fatigue some Lowe’s employees may experience while on the job, which frequently requires lifting and moving heavy or bulky products. As the user bends and stands back up, the suit’s carbon fiber legs act like a bow and arrow, storing the user’s energy then returning it to them. This helps the user spring back up with greater ease.

According to information, the first four suits are currently in use by the stocking team at the Christiansburg store. During the coming months, Asbeck and his team will work with Lowe’s to assess the physical impact of the suits. Lowe’s will also lead employee engagement studies to better understand the impact that the exosuit has on the work experience.

“Lowe’s is committed to exploring opportunities that improve the workplace experience,” said Kyle Nel, executive director of Lowe’s Innovation Labs, the company’s disruptive technology hub. “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.”

Lowe’s Innovation Labs launched the exosuit project as a way to make working in stores easier and more efficient, thereby improving employee well-being and customer service.

Following the initial pilot program, Lowe’s will survey the impact of the program and look for opportunities to scale up. Meanwhile, in Asbeck’s lab, the team will continue developing the technology and eventually will look for additional applications.

Asbeck was recently awarded the Interdisciplinary Rehabilitation Engineering Career Development Program’s Movement and Rehabilitation Sciences training grant, a $135,000 award that will fund Asbeck’s further study in exoskeleton use, particularly for rehabilitation.

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