On May 17, 2016 Harvard University’s Wyss Institute and ReWalk Robotics announced a collaboration to develop an exosuit for patients with limited mobility. The soft exoskeleton will be used primarily for patients undergoing rehabilitation due to stroke or multiple sclerosis. There are also plans to develop the Wyss exosuit as a general augmentative / medical mobile assist device for people suffering from mobility impairment in the lower extremities.
The Harvard University Wyss Institute has been developing soft exoskeletons, also known as exosuits under the guide of Dr. Conor Walsh for quite some time. From a design point of view, the Wyss exosuit moves all of the batteries and motors to the waist, where they are easiest to carry. On an intuitive level, you can imagine that if you have motors or other heavy components strapped on your ankles or knees they will be harder to carry. With each forward leg swing you will have to propel the weight of the components forward. Having all of the heavy components on your back decreases the metabolic cost of carrying them. The force generated by the motors is transmitted down to the legs using a variety of soft materials which pull on specifically engineered flexible textile straps. Recently, Dr. Conor Walsh was on the Disruptive podcast series where he presented and in-depth explanation of his work at the Wyss Institute.
The collaboration between The Wyss Institute and ReWalk Robotics was structured by the Harvard Office of Technology and Development. It includes a license for intellectual property and funding for further research at the Institute. The Wyss exosuit has also been funded by the National Science Foundation, the Harvard University Star Family Challenge, and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA) Warrior Web.
The Wyss Institute also gains access to ReWalk’s commercial knowledge of bringing an exoskeleton product into the marketplace. Currently ReWalk has offices in the US, Germany and Israel. In addition, ReWalk has a substantial network of training centers all around the globe. Between ReWalk’s commercial experience and international network the Wyss exosuit stands to gain greater exposure and hands-on testing than ever before!
If this sounds like a one-sided deal rest assured that it is not. With the March 2016 acquisition of Interactive Motion Technologies by Bionik Laboratories (IMT), ReWalk Robotics was left as the only large exoskeleton company with only one product line. Bionik Laboratories is developing the ARKE lower body exoskeleton and now has a stationary upper body rehabilitation devices portfolio. Currently Ekso Bionics is working on three product lines: powered rehabilitation exoskeletons, passive exoskeletons for work and industry and a soft exosuit for the military. CYBERDYNE is working on powered exoskeletons for both rehabilitation, mobility assist and work/industry. The licensing of intellectual property for the Wyss exosuit gives ReWalk a decade of research in soft exoskeleton technology and the diversification that many of the major players in the exoskeleton industry already possess.
Is this an emerging trend?
In December 2015, Ekso Bionics acquired Equipoise, the manufacturer of the zeroG spring arm that can be used to hold heavy equipment. As mentioned above, Bionik Laboratories acquired IMT in March 2016 and now in May 2016 the Wyss Institute has began a collaboration with ReWalk Robotics. Are these random events or are we seeing the beginnings of the consolidation of the exoskeleton industry?
Wyss Institute collaborates with ReWalk Robotics to develop wearable exosuits for patients with limited mobility. May 17, 2016, Harvard University Wyss Institute
ReWalk Announces Collaboration with Harvard University’s Wyss Institute to Develop Lightweight and Soft Exoskeleton Systems for the Treatment of Stroke, Multiple Sclerosis and Limited Mobility Patients, May 17, 2016, ReWalk Robotics