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Lowe’s employees have a new uniform — a robotic suit

BY Deena M. Amato-McCoy

A home improvement chain is taking a page from science fiction to keep employees safe.

Lowe's and Virginia Tech have joined forces to develop an exosuit — a wearable robotic suit with lift-assist technology — for Lowe's store employees. The lightweight exosuit, which is designed to help employees lift and move product throughout the store more efficiently, and aids against muscle fatigue, is being piloted in Lowe's Christiansburg, Virginia, store.

If the new suit sounds like something found in a science fiction novel, there’s a reason. The idea evolved in the company's disruptive technology hub, Lowe's Innovation Lab. One concept within the hub’s narrative-driven approach is the ability for the design team to work with science fiction writers to envision the future, and use storytelling as inspiration for innovative initiatives. The Lab envisioned a future where the use of technology could provide special “superpowers” to employees and maximize performance.

To bring this narrative to life, Lowe's engaged Dr. Alan Asbeck, assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, and a team of eight graduate and undergraduate students from Virginia Tech’s Assistive Robotics Laboratory. Together, Lowe's and Virginia Tech designed and developed an exosuit prototype after months of lab testing.

"Our employees ensure our stores are always ready for customers," said Kyle Nel, executive director of Lowe's Innovation Labs. "As a way to support them, we found a unique opportunity to collaborate with Virginia Tech to develop one of the first retail applications for assistive robotic exosuits."

The key elements of the lightweight suit include the reinforcement of proper lifting form, and support for movements intended to make lifting heavy objects easier. The exosuit is designed to accomplish this by absorbing energy and delivering it back to the user, enabling them to exert less force to complete certain movements.

As they bend and stand, carbon fiber in the suit's legs and back act like a taut bow ready to launch an arrow, helping them spring back up with greater ease. As a result, commonly lifted objects, like a bag of concrete or a five-gallon bucket of paint, feels significantly lighter to the user, according to the chain.

The first four suits are currently in use by the stocking team at the Christiansburg store. During the coming months, Asbeck and his team will work with Lowe's to assess the physical impact of the suit. Lowe's will also lead employee engagement studies to better understand the impact of the exosuit on the work experience.

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News

Specialty retailer becomes target of cyber-attack

BY Deena M. Amato-McCoy

Brooks Brothers is the latest victim of a data breach.

According to the specialty retailer, an unauthorized individual installed malicious software designed to capture payment card information on some of the chain’s payment processing systems. The software compromised payment card information across some purchases made at certain Brooks Brothers and Brooks Brothers Outlet retail locations in the United States and Puerto Rico.

The breach occurred between April 4, 2016 and March 1, 2017. Purchases made on the company’s website and at Brooks Brothers airport locations were not targeted in the attack.

The malware did not pilfer sensitive personal information, such as Social Security numbers or personally identifying information. However, payment card data, such as name, payment card account number, card expiration date, and card verification codes could have been affected, according to Brooks Brothers.

Upon learning about the incident, the chain notified potentially affected customers, and advised them on steps they can take to protect themselves. These include reviewing credit and debit card account statements to locate any discrepancies or unusual activity; and to immediately notify the issuer of the credit or debit card should they find any suspicious transactions.

“We take the security of our customers' information very seriously and, once we learned of this incident, we took immediate action including initiating an internal review, engaging independent forensic experts to assist us in the investigation and remediation of our systems and alerting law enforcement,” according to Brooks Brothers. “While we are continuing to review and enhance our security measures moving forward to help prevent a future incident, we can confirm that this issue has been resolved and is no longer impacting transactions.”

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ECOMMERCE

Report: Amazon makes bigger push into furniture category

BY CSA STAFF

The message is clear: Amazon wants to furnish its shoppers’ homes.

The online retailer has made a strong commitment to the furniture category by expanding its merchandise assortment and custom designs. Now it is giving the category even more attention, according to sources that said Amazon is building at least four massive warehouses focused on fulfilling and delivering bulky items, MarketWatch reported.

In the report, Barclays detailed that 15% of the $70 billion U.S. furniture market has transitioned online — and players such as Wayfair and Pottery Barn are contributing to the furniture segment’s growth. Yet, even veteran players struggle to present the proper mix of variety and assortments — a factor that makes Amazon’s category push a bold one.

According to the report, Veenu Taneja, furniture general manager at Amazon said in a statement, “Furniture is one of the fastest-growing retail categories here at Amazon. The company is expanding its selection of products, with offerings including Ashley Furniture sofas and Jonathan Adler home décor, and it is adding custom-furniture design services. Amazon is also speeding up delivery to one or two days in some cities.”

To read more, click here.

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