C-Suite TV with Jeffery Hayzlett has published an interview with Ekso Bionics CFO Max Scheder-Bieschin. In the interview, Max Scheder-Bieschin focuses on the current and future medical exoskeleton offerings by Ekso Bionics. However, his thoughts and opinions have many overarching ideas that can be applied to all medical exoskeletons as well as the entire exoskeleton industry.
According to its website, the C-Suite Network is an information, resources, and relationship private online community reserved exclusively for business executives with VP level careers and above. The full interview between Jeffery Hayzlett and Max Scheder-Bieschin was filmed at the C-Suite Conference in San Francisco and can be found on c-suitetv.com
Whether due to editing or perhaps that is just how Max speaks, there are various interesting thoughts are covered in just a few sentences and deserve some elaboration:
Exoskeletons will fit under the clothing.
In the interview, Max reflects how within five years exoskeletons will shrink to the point that they can fit underneath clothing. We have already seen this with the Ski Mojo and the most recently released pictures of the SuperFlex suit. Overall, exoskeletons are becoming smaller and more streamlined. Many thought leaders within the industry now equate the shape of current exoskeletons to those of cell phones from the 1970s and 1980s (some of which were so large that they even came with a carry-on box in addition to the handle).
The analogy to cell phones is a double edged sword one. On one hand, it is exciting that business and technology experts see plenty of potential for improvement. On the other hand, it demonstrates how much the exoskeleton industry is still in its infancy. It took many decades for cell phone technology to become accessible to the average consumer.
The cell phone analogy doesn’t have to be used just for the size of current exoskeletons. Cellular technology is now bundled together with music and video playback, digital photography, and text editing. The same could be happening to exoskeleton devices. Some medical exoskeletons have already been bundled with data logging, wireless communication, cloud integration, haptic feedback, FES integration, virtual reality, mobility testing, and EMG sensors. We can only guess what other technologies can become integrated with wearable robotics in the future.
Safe from falls vs. safe to fall with
In the interview, Max talks briefly how home use exoskeletons are not safe enough. What he is eluding to is that after FDA approvals and insurance coverage are implemented there will be hundreds of thousands of walking assist exoskeletons. Once you are dealing with such large numbers, it is impossible to imagine that people will not start falling down while using their wearables. Therefore it is necessary to make the exoskeleton devices safe (safer) for users to fall down with. As it stands, the current Ekso GT and many of its counterparts are heavy, bulky, rigid metal wearable robots and falling down with one sounds potentially dangerous. How is Ekso Bionics addressing this? We have a partial picture thanks to the work of our contributors Timothy Retter: Exoskeleton Safety on Ekso Bionics research and Marcus Pyles: Building In Reflexes and Closed-Loop Communication Into Exoskeleton Design.
Return on Investment
Exoskeleton technology has the potential to benefit many, so it always seems cold hearted to talk about return on investment (ROI). The reality is however that most of the exoskeleton companies are entirely privately funded, and therefore are accountable to their investors. In the interview, Max emphasizes the importance of having a clear view of the ROI and providing a clear solution to targeted markets. This is a big departure from a decade ago where many thought that once the exoskeletons are made they will naturally find market applications where they fit.
Max sees the rehabilitation devices as a stepping stone towards the much larger home market, but the return on investment isn’t there yet. To be clear, Ekso Bionics and medical device developers, are not trying to rip off hospitals and people that can benefit from this technology. Instead, they are trying to create a product that is so good that it has high enough ROI so it can be purchased with profit margin left for the manufacturer.
The business connection
C-Suite TV is a resource center for discussions from business leaders. But if you want to directly connect with VPs from dozens of exoskeleton companies from around the world don’t forget to register for the WearRAcon17. WearRAcon17 will be this April in Phoenix and is the one dedicated to wearable exoskeleton technology event that will heavily emphasize business and business development.