American hardware and home improvement giant Lowe’s recently implemented a new program that outfits some workers with a special type of exoskeleton. The technology has been designed to assist workers when lifting heavy items throughout the store.
Could it set a new standard for physically demanding jobs?
Saving Strain And Fatigue
The exoskeleton was designed at the Innovation Labs—a Lowe’s owned research facility—through a collaboration with Virginia Tech’s Assistive Robotic Laboratory. While it’s sometimes referred to as a suit, it more closely resembles a back brace combined with a safety harness.
Unlike other exoskeletons on the market, it doesn’t require a power source. Instead it works through a series of carbon-fiber trusses and motors that transfer the energy of the wearer’s movement and provide added support and lifting assistance.
For workers that spend hours of their day continuously bending, lifting, carrying, and placing all manner of hardware and home improvement products, the added support and built-in lifting assistance can save considerable strain on the muscles and joints and prevent worker fatigue.
Four of Lowe’s new exoskeletons are being used as part of a pilot program at a Christiansburg, Virginia store. The company wants to now see how much they’ll assist the average store associate in various physical tasks.
So far, feedback has been positive. Kyle Nel, Lowe’s Innovation Lab’s director recently told The Verge, employees “wear it all day long, it’s very comfortable, and it makes their job easier.”
A New Standard For Tough Jobs?
Lowes and Virginia Tech are continuing to survey the technology and how it impacts labor. Other companies and organizations have also made advances in robotic exoskeletal technology.
NASA and General motors are currently working on a motor assisted glove designed to improve the gripping and lifting capabilities of factory workers. Panasonic is also working on mass producing their “Assist Suit” that can cut down strain on a worker’s back by more than thirty pounds.
With so many companies putting this type of technology to test, will it be long before robotic exoskeletons and suits become the norm in factories, warehouses, and big box stores? Comment and tell us what you think.