May 19, 2017

Lowes teams up to test robotic exosuits

Gene J. Puskar / AP

If you want to work at Lowes, you "must be able to lift up to 70 pounds," according to the company's job description. That's not easy, especially when you could be lifting 70-pound objects multiple times throughout the eight-hour workday. That's where robots come in to help — but this time, they're not taking anyone's job.

Virginia Tech and Lowes teamed up to create robotic exosuits. They're a lightweight suit outfitted with lift-assist technology to help employees lift products easier.

Why it matters: Although these exosuits are the first of their kind at Lowes, it's a promising example of how robots can empower humans to perform better at work rather than replace them altogether. Furthermore, these exosuits could expand opportunities for older workers who want to get back into the labor force at a place like Lowes, who would otherwise be barred from the physical requirements.

How they work: When the employee bends down and stands back up, the exosuit is made of carbon fibers. Those fibers stretch back and launch forward (think: a bow and arrow motion) when the employee bends down and stands back up. By storing the exosuit user's energy and restoring it back to them, the employee will have an easier time getting back up after bending down to pick up a heavy object.

How they're different: "Our technology is different in that it includes soft and flexible elements, and our approach is unique in that we are putting our prototypes in a real-world environment for an extended period of time," Alan Asbeck, an assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering in the VT College of Engineering, told VT news.

What's next: Currently, there are only four of these suits being tested by the stocking team at the Lowes in Christiansburg, Virginia. Asbeck and his team (four undergraduates and four graduates from the Assistive Robotics Laboratory) will work with Lowes over the next few months to figure out the physical limits of their suits and the affect it has on the workers' experiences.

Go deeper

Updated 25 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 7 a.m. ET: 6,289,259 — Total deaths: 375,987 — Total recoveries — 2,706,820Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 7 a.m. ET: 1,811,277 — Total deaths: 105,147 — Total recoveries: 458,231 — Total tested: 17,340,682Map.
  3. Public health: Nearly 26,000 coronavirus deaths in nursing homes have been reported to federal health officials —Coronavirus looms over George Floyd protests across the country.
  4. Federal government: Trump lashes out at governors, calls for National Guard to "dominate" streets.
  5. World: Former FDA commissioner says "this is not the time" to cut ties with WHO.
  6. 🎧 Podcast: The virus didn't go away.

What it was like when police used tear gas to clear a path for Trump

President Trump walking back to the White House. Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

Moments before President Trump began his Rose Garden address, a mass of law enforcement suddenly marched forward in Lafayette Park, across Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House.

Why it matters: It was a jarring scene as police in the nation's capital forcefully cleared young men and women gathered legally in a public park on a sunny evening, all of it on live television.

Trump goes full law-and-order

Photo: Tom Brenner/Reuters

President Trump's final decision to speak in the Rose Garden last evening as protests raged outside the gate was made only hours before, reflecting chaos on both sides of the fence.

Why it matters: Trump’s ultimate remarks fell where his instincts always were: blunt, brutal law and order, with extreme demonstrations of militarized “strength” and blustery threats.