This is part of a series giving you an insider’s view of the products coming out of Pittsburgh to change the world.
While you’ve been sitting on your couch for the past three years as you work from home, somebody has been breaking their back to get you the products you’ve been ordering for home delivery.
You might have noticed it only by watching that delivery person struggle to carry your WFH desk up the stairs. But there’s a whole infrastructure of people to get those products to you — including the folks at Amazon distribution centers and other points in production and distribution through which your goods pass.
That means heavy lifting along the way.
It’s no wonder that “one in five injuries in the workplace are back-related, resulting in over a million work-related back injuries” according to Chris Pesek, COO of East Liberty-based Maroon Assistive Technologies. That costs businesses $2.25 billion each year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. These injuries are so prevalent that OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) even has a program to help businesses train their employees on working ergonomically.
That’s still not enough to address the problem, so the team at Maroon Assistive created an exoskeleton that helps reduce back injuries. I tried it myself.
The Maroon Assistive exoskeleton is worn like a harness, strapping over your shoulders and around your waist and legs to help you maintain the proper posture to lift and to provide added support. It takes just a few seconds to put it on — it took me 40 seconds to put it on for my test because I needed to learn the ropes — and it changes the way one lifts heavy objects.
In my test, conducted at Maroon Assistive Technology’s office at AlphaLab Gear in East Liberty, I was able to lift a 40-pound box with little effort while wearing the exoskeleton. At first, it had an unusual feel, although not uncomfortable, as I bent, lifted and carried the demo box under the watchful eye of Maroon co-founder Taylor Pesek. The box seemed typical of product deliveries, complete with two holes to use as handles on either side, similar to a “banker’s box.”
Design-wise, the exoskeleton reminds me of the rolling suitcases that travelers use, with metal rails along my spine. The unit also has an orange flexible pad/support along the bottom edge that wrapped below my butt as I bent to provide additional support. This provided a comfortable aid to the lifting process and I felt no strain.
The product is based on research done at Virginia Tech by Maroon CEO Tim Pote, in collaboration with Lowe’s Home Improvement, a company whose products include many heavy items that must be moved multiple times before being purchased.
Chris Pesek, who recently moved to Pittsburgh from Blacksburg, Virginia, says “passive exoskeletons allow workers to complete their jobs with less effort and reduced chance of injury.”
The company is targeting industrial companies using a try-before-you-buy approach. Customers can sign up for an eight-week trial at a significantly reduced cost.
Pesek says he is “confident that most will keep the units at the end of the trial, including purchasing more.”
Know of a product or service being developed in Pittsburgh or by a Pittsburgh-based company that is cool, is creating growth, or will change the world? Let David know and you may see how it works or why it’s cool in these pages. Contact him at email@example.com.