The field of exoskeleton devices stands to greatly gain from 3rd party testing. Manufacturers and sellers of exoskeletons can build a stronger case for the use of their equipment if it has been validated by an impartial 3rd party. Buyers can screen wearable robotics products faster if they already have metrics from an independent source, not connected to the manufacturer. As the number of exoskeleton types and prototypes continues to multiply, it is becoming more difficult to compare them to one another and 3rd party quantifiable testing can cut through the growing confusion. This is especially true when it comes to manufacturer claims on what an exoskeleton can and can’t do.
Last week, ReWalk Robotics reported that an “external independent review organization” was instrumental in overturning the decision of a US insurance company to not reimburse a surgeon for his ReWalk exoskeleton. This marks another exoskeleton sale and sets a precedence for successfully arguing for insurance reimbursement. This would not have been possible without the 3rd party input. Reviews and opinions by independent parties build a stronger case for the use of exoskeletons and validate the efforts of their manufacturers.
Third party testing is essential in choosing the right product. When a person is looking to buy a car, they don’t read the safety rating that the company gave its own vehicles. Car safety ratings in the US are done by an independent agency using the same test conditions. While crashing exoskeletons into walls is not necessary, some standardization is becoming essential. For example, let’s say there are two labs that have started comparing the metabolic rate of a user with and without an exoskeleton. If the labs were to exchange their devices, will the results be the same when they don’t know how the test was conducted? Was the exoskeleton optimized to the user? What was the walking speed at which it was tested, etc.?
Currently the biggest tester of exoskeletons in terms of volume has been the US Military. Until now, there have been enough resources to test each suit individually on soldiers, but the data is mostly subjective. Last week, army-technology.com announced that Robotics Engineering Excellence (RE2) has received a contract to create an exoskeleton simulator. The simulator will help predict both positive and negative human exoskeleton interactions. Different exoskeleton devices will be analyzed using the same software allowing for a direct, apples-to-apples comparison. While one million dollars may be a steep price, this will bring tremendous cost reduction to the military in the long run. The RE2 software can be used to weed out designs that don’t meet the requirements prior to soldier trials.
Exoskeleton unbiased testing also hides some risk for the manufacturer. The test procedure could yield poorer results or some non-patented trade secrets could be revealed. However, the risk does not outweigh the benefit. Testing by other labs could provide metrics for retailers to make product comparison easier. It can validate manufactures’ claims and provide more exposure for the product. It is sometimes much easier for someone not familiar with a product to find opportunities for improvement. It is the same as trying to edit your own writing. No matter how much you stare at it, you see what you meant to write rather than what is written. Outside testing can be part of the key for creating better exoskeletons.
Independent third party testing brings validity to the exoskeleton industry. It allows for companies to present stronger cases for the use of their products. It gives prospective exoskeleton buyers the information and tools with which to compare similar wearable robots. Independent testing, reviews and the creation of standard test methods for exoskeletons is now taking its first baby steps. Outside testing is an integral part in starting to turn the wheels of the exoskeleton industry.
For more on the news mentioned:
ReWalk to be covered by health insurance:
RE2 Secures Exoskeleton Simulator System contract: