Retail giant Lowe’s and researchers from Virginia Tech have joined forces to develop an exosuit — a wearable suit with lift-assist technology. According to Virginia Tech’s news department, the lightweight exosuit is designed to help employees lift and move product through the store more efficiently. The suit is currently being tested by employees at Lowe’s store in Christiansburg, Va.

“Over the past couple of years, human assistive devices have become an area of interest,” said robotics expert Alan Asbeck, an assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering in the Virginia Tech College of Engineering. “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.”

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 store the user’s energy and returns it to them. This helps the user move with greater ease.

During the coming months, Asbeck and his team will work with Lowe’s to evaluate 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.

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.