Lowe’s Innovation Labs collaborated with Virginia Tech to create an exosuit that can help employees move items more efficiently. Photo Credit: Virginia Tech

As Asbeck explains, the suit works like a giant bow and arrow. As an employee bends down to pick up something, their body falls forward under the influence of gravity. The downward motion of the torso loads up the carbon fiber into what Asbeck calls a “curved C shape,” like pulling on the string of a bow and arrow. When this happens, the energy in the person’s body is transferred to the exosuit and is stored there until the person stands back up.

“And then when you go to stand back up, it pulls up on your body, on your torso, and basically brings you back into an upright position,” Asbeck explains.

During the research process to develop the exosuit prototype, Asbeck’s team explored several material options to store kinetic energy. They started with steel springs, but soon realized that in order to effectively store energy, they would need an inordinately large and heavy spring. Employing CFRP, on the other hand, meant the team could use less material. Asbeck adds that carbon fiber can bend very well and has “sort of a loose spring construction,” meaning you can fit it right next to the body and it doesn’t outwardly protrude very much.

“You’d have to wear it around all day, so you want it to be as light as possible,” Asbeck says. “You don’t want [the exosuit] to stick out a lot because then you’d be bumping into things as you walk around or maybe you wouldn’t be able to fit in a narrow aisle.”

For the next version of the exosuit, Asbeck says the goal is to drive down production costs so he is considering using GFRP.

Innovation on Display at CAMX

On Tuesday, Dec. 12., in Orlando, Fla., at the CAMX General Session, winners of the prestigious Combined Strength Award and Unsurpassed Innovation Award will be announced. Later in the day, the Awards for Composites Excellence (ACE) will be presented. The awards recognize innovations that have the potential to significantly impact composites and advanced materials. This year, IACMI is a finalist for the Combined Strength Award for its 9-meter turbine blade. See the blade and other innovations in the CAMX Exhibit Hall!