As anyone who has stocked shelves in a big-box retail store knows, there's a lot of squatting and heavy lifting involved – injuries can and do occur. That's why hardware chain Lowe's has collaborated with Virginia Tech to create a new lift-assist exoskeleton for use by its employees. Four of the devices are currently being trialled at a Lowe's store in Christiansburg, Virginia.

The suit is described as being soft and lightweight, and is worn over the worker's regular clothing.

It doesn't incorporate any motors, but is instead designed to absorb energy and deliver it back to the user. This is done through flexible carbon fiber rods in the legs and back that bend like a bow as the wearer bends over to pick up heavy objects, allowing them to spring back up with less effort.

"Over the past couple years, human assistive devices have become an area of interest," says Virginia Tech's Dr. Alan Asbeck, who is leading the project. "But, our technology is different, not only because of the suit's soft, flexible elements, but because we're putting the prototype in a real world environment for an extended period of time."

The exoskeleton can be seen in use, in the following video.

View gallery - 2 images