Lowe’s uniforms just got a serious upgrade in Christiansburg, Va., where shoppers may spot a new robotic exosuit in action. CNN Tech reports that four employees there are testing out an exoskeleton prototype that aids workers with heavy lifting. The technology looks much like a harness, with carbon-fiber rods that run along the wearer’s back and thighs. As the worker bends to lift objects, the shafts collect potential energy, which springs back and releases upon standing. The idea stemmed from Lowe’s Innovation Labs, which partners with sci-fi writers to create futuristic narratives for potential technology. In this example, the imagined technology grants employees super human powers to maximize performance, Lowe's says. From there, the suit was designed in collaboration with Virginia Tech engineering professor Dr. Alan Asbeck.
About a month into a 3-month pilot program, lab director Kyle Nel tells the Verge that testing has been positive, and that the employees wear the suits all day. “It’s very comfortable and it makes their job easier,” he says. "It’s very smooth, and it feels like this heavy thing [they’re lifting] is much less heavy." For Lowe’s workers, some of whom spend 90% of their day moving and lifting hefty merchandise like cement bags, the exosuit can be a game-changer. (See it in action in this video.) But the company is also hoping that if expanded beyond the Virginia store, the exosuit program will serve as a recruiting tool. "Who wouldn't want to work in a place where you get to wear an exosuit?" Nel says.