It’s not Iron Man, but Lowe’s exoskeleton is a pretty good start for a hardware store.
While exoskeletons may be found more in science-fiction than hardware stores, Lowe’s in Christiansburg, Virgina, is the exception. Lowe’s, the second biggest hardware store chain in the USA, has teamed up with Alan Asbeck, a Virginia Tech engineering professor to create a simple, lightweight exoskeleton to allow employees to lift greater weights without the risk of injury.
Asbeck has worked with Lowe’s Innovation Labs to create a lightweight frame, almost like a full-body backpack. The exosuit uses carbon-fiber rods to bend with worker’s movements, taking on a lot of any weight they carry. The focus is a light, simple design that improves what employees can handle without sacrificing comfort and, so far, it seems to be working. In an interview with The Verge, Kyle Nel, the head of Lowe’s Innovation Labs said that the exoskeleton allows workers to lift very heavy objects. He added, “It’s very smooth and it feels like the heavy thing is much less heavy.”
Four employees have been testing the exoskeletons since the pilot program started four weeks ago, and seem delighted so far. An interesting feature is how employee-satisfaction is being monitored. For hours at a time, workers wear a headset which checks brain activity, scanning for the high and low points of working with the exoskeleton, according to NBC. This is important since Nel sees the exoskeletons as a way to attract new workers. He added, “Who wouldn’t want to work in a place where you get to wear an exosuit?”.
Lowe’s will continue to test the suits for two more months. Afterward, they’ll see about expanding to more employees and other locations. If Lowe’s proves the success of their exoskeletons, they might just become a common sight in warehouses and storefronts around the world.