In an incredibly bold move, Ekso Bionics has acquired the spring-loaded zeroG™ and X-Ar™ mechanical arms from Equipois, LLC. The zeroG™ is currently used for virtually every single prototype exoskeleton for industrial use! This is a very bold move by Ekso Bionics that could hurt the company’s image, finances and relationship with its partners and competitors in the emerging exoskeleton market.
Who uses the zeroG™?
The zeroG™ is spring-loaded and transfers the weight of the object to its base, which is then transmitted into the ground via the exoskeleton. This is the same mechanical attachment used to hold heavy tools in most industrial exoskeletons:
- Ekso Works by Ekso Bionics
- FORTIS by Lockheed Martin
- Modular Agile eXoskeleton (MAX) by US Bionics
- OLAD by Falltech
By purchasing the technology of the zeroG™ Ekso Bionics places itself at odds with Lockheed Martin and Falltech.
Is Ekso Bionics Re-inventing itself?
Ekso Bionics has always been a company of massive innovation and risk taking. No other exoskeleton business has attempted to work on as many projects as Ekso Bionics! Over the years there have been Eksos for the military, industry and rehabilitation, made from both hard and soft materials and prototypes that have been both powered and passive. Ekso Bionics, however has never been a reseller of technology. This moves the company’s image away from being an innovator and more towards being a highly competitive business.
Finally, this also comes with a financial risk. Ekso Bionics has already almost run out of cash once before and is still not generating a profit. Acquiring the Equipois, LLC property is surely going to set Ekso Bionics back financially and require them to seek new funding even sooner than expected.
How did we get here?
Currently all exoskeleton prototypes for holding heavy tools in an industrial setting share a similar design. Originally, Ekso Bionics and Lockheed Martin collaborated on the HULC a hydraulically powered exoskeleton for the military. The project was a failure, but a stripped down HULC frame was used to create a passive exoskeleton that could support a heavy industrial tool using the zeroG™ arm. At the time, Ekso Bionics reported that while they are interested, the company does not have the cash to invest in this application. Lockheed Martin then took this early prototype and contracted Robrady Design to make what ultimately became the FORTIS passive exoskeleton for industrial use. For more on this, see Daily Tech’s From HULC to FORTIS: the Evolution of Lockheed Martin’s Incredible Exosuit.
Realizing their mistake, Ekso Bionics created their own version, the Ekso Works, and the two companies have had some dispute over which entity owns the intellectual rights to both passive exoskeletons. Ekso Bionics claims that it was their initial work that created the FORTIS while Lockheed Martin argues that they and Robrady Design developed the FORTIS independently without infringing on any Ekso Bionics patents.
While Ekso Bionics and Lockheed Martin were going back and forth, US Bionics, a spin-off from Ekso Bionics and Falltech, a harness manufacturer have also released their own passive exoskeletons for industrial use that rely on the zeroG™. In the mean time, several EU countries funded the RoboMate research project that uses a very similar spring system to hold heavy items in an industrial setting.
Whats in store for the future?
According to the Ekso Bionics website, Equipois, LLC have sold only 600 units of the zeroG™ since its product introduction, but Ekso Bionics is committed to honor all previous contracts and orders. This is an aggressive acquisition that could easily deplete both the finances and the current good will towards Ekso Bionics.
Please visit the Ekso Bionics website for the full press release: Ekso Bionics Acquires Gravity Balancing Arm Technology