Exoskeleton market growing quickly

Friday, 26 October, 2018

Exoskeleton market growing quickly

According to a new report from ABI Research, ‘Robotic Exoskeletons: Classes, Markets, and Applications’, exoskeletons are increasingly being introduced to augment human capability; for assistive purposes in the workplace, and for enabling and rehabilitative purposes for the healthcare market.

Though a technology that has been talked about since the Sixties, exoskeletons are only now beginning to demonstrate their practical value. As of 2018, global shipments stand at 7000 units with a global hardware revenue of US$192 million. But this is all expected to change very rapidly, with total shipments expected to reach over 91,000 by 2023 and 301,000 by 2028. Global revenue for the suits will increase US$5.8 billion in 2028, according to the report.

“The market gets healthier with each passing month,” said Rian Whitton, Robotics Research Analyst at ABI Research. “The culmination of start-up activity, an increasingly permissive regulatory environment, improving drive and materials technology, and partnerships with larger corporations suggest the exo-market is in the best position it has ever been.”

Until very recently, exoskeletons have been something of a novelty, but now, advancements in the technology have made them viable for developed economies. For example, power consumption has been a longstanding problem and now the efficiency of battery technology has extended the viable use time for powered exo-suits. German Bionic, a manufacturer of upper body-powered exo-suits, uses a replaceable lithium-ion battery that lasts up to eight hours on the factory floor.

Considering that the ageing population and systemic skills shortage in developed countries are forcing companies to invest more in the workforce they already have, exoskeletons will become a force multiplier in improving productivity and in avoiding and mitigating against injuries. In the long run, their adoption will save billions of dollars of waste every year accrued from lost hours due to physical injury. The future value of exoskeletons is not limited to industry, however. The deployment of rehabilitation-focused exoskeletons by companies like Parker Hannifin and Cyberdyne showcases their potential in the enormous global health market.

Large tier-ones and OEMs are taking note — from General Electric and Caterpillar to the Ford Motor Company, exoskeletons are being deployed at an accelerating rate.

In terms of market revenue, the distribution is tilted heavily towards industrial and commercial applications. The industrial market for exoskeletons (including manufacturing, construction, utilities, etc) is expected to reach revenues of US$2.8 billion by 2028, while, by the same time, commercial use cases (notably health and warehouse logistics) will be worth US$2 billion.

But there are barriers to exoskeleton adoption. Exoskeletons are still expensive and the deployment of these complex systems requires further partnerships between OEMs, distributors and service providers. More work needs to be done in creating modular platforms that can be retrofitted with a range of capable end effectors to widen market appeal. There also must be increased emphasis placed on the data collection and cognitive capabilities of exoskeletons; as autonomous smart devices that provide valuable insights to floor managers regarding worker performance and health.

Image courtesy of Ford.

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