This is a job for Superman

By Stephen Harris - For The Tribune

Stephen Harris Back In The Hometown

All that’s lacking is a big red “S” on the chest.

The imaginative have been dreaming of leaping tall buildings in a single bound for years now. Meanwhile, back in the real world, innovation and progress have allowed mild-mannered Clark Kents like you and me to inch toward the dream and be fitter, healthier, stronger and smarter.

Now Lowe’s, the big home-improvement, box-store chain that grew out of North Wilkesboro Hardware, is openly talking about turning us into something like Iron Man.

Four so-called exosuits out of Virginia Tech are being tested at the Lowe’s store in Christiansburg, Virginia, on the way to Roanoke. The suits are touted for allowing store associates to lift heavy things like bags of concrete and five-gallon buckets of paint with more strength and less stress on backs and joints.

In front, the seven-pound suits look something like a fetching beach bikini. There are shoulder pads like in football and a wraparound waist pad that are connected with straps and buckles.

In back, something like a school backpack holds six carbon-fiber rods that run from shoulders to knees. The bands bend as you bend, then spring back into place as you pick up a heavy something. The process is described as something like an archery bow in action.

And Lowe’s is not soft-pedaling these things. The exosuits are “to give our store associates super powers,” proclaims Kyle Nel, executive director of Lowe’s new Innovation Labs, in an Internet video making the rounds.

The idea actually came from a comic book, and Lowe’s took the idea to Virginia Tech.

A Tech student who worked on the project, Tim Pote, said during a demonstration recently of a suit at a campus lab that picking up a 25-pound box felt like picking up nothing.

There’s no word on when the Lowe’s super suit will come to our hometown North Elkin store or to any of the others, according to the Charlotte Business Journal newspaper.

You’ve seen in stores simple back and knee braces, motorized wheelchairs and even chair lifts for the home. How long can it be before exosuits can give anybody the ability to do things we’ve never done before?

The beauty of the idea is that, unlike expensive robots or machinery, the suits can be simple enough and common enough so that Lowe’s can send wardrobes of them to their nearly 2,000 stores across the continent.

And you know they won’t keep the super suits just in the employee break rooms in Lowe’s stores. How much money is there to be made by selling these things in stores alongside back braces and lift chairs?

“This exosuit is literally the first step,” Nel said. “Exosuits are the future. We’ll have better form factors, more amazing powers to make this super power even better.”

Power lift 300 pounds in the gym? Move out that wheelbarrow full of rocks? Drop something behind the bed and need to move the bed? The 2-year-old wants to be picked up?

Instead of ripping open the shirt to show the shield, just slip on your super bikini. Playing beach music or the Superman march optional.

It’s a wonderful world that we’re living in. We’re able to work, travel, communicate, educate, get medical attention in ways that our parents and grandparents could not imagine. And soon, maybe super strength.

It’s enough to make you want to do don some tights and a cape.

Stephen Harris returned home to live in State Road.

Stephen Harris Back In The Hometown Harris Back In The Hometown

By Stephen Harris

For The Tribune

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