An Editorial, Rita Vazquez-Torres, CEO New Stone Soup VT LLC, Consulting
The past couple of months have been fairly quiet in the world of Exos. WearRA has announced its “early bird” for WearRAcon 2020. The early-bird pricing ends August 31, while agenda development is underway. In the meantime some of the committees seem to be on a break while the WearRA folks are busy on European projects and the Asian market. Quiet before the storm? Maybe. Hardly inactive, however – like a duck in a pond, smooth on the surface and paddling frantically underwater. Because July seems to be the month of “everyone in a bunker” writing white papers in response to the Army’s “request for information” (link: GovTribe.com – Request For Concept Papers On Exoskeleton Technologies For The Warfighter) closed on July 25th, and the ASTM “request for proposals” (Link: ExoCoE.org – ASTM CoE Request for Proposals Details) that were due on July 29th. It will be interesting to see what September will bring with both these exo-opportunities of high interest to the community. Cool bodies above water, lots of activity below the surface. Ripples. Soft but steady.
In the meantime, the Army is gearing up for its final “Soldier Touch Point” of FY19 and the ASTM F48 committee and subcommittee members have been busy submitting their feedback to a number of data calls in the Standards process. We anticipate that much of this information will be available in the new Federal fiscal year and new opportunities will present themselves to a number of aspiring companies.
As a consultant in the field, with no affiliation to any particular technology, I have been asked several times regarding the “opportunities” with many of the exoskeleton developers assuming that the Army and ASTM opportunities were “pre-selected”. From where I stand, I believe the playing field is fair and open. It is up to those seeking the opportunities to tell their stories based on their expertise, knowledge and the requestor’s intent and guidelines. ASTM is certainly not a newcomer in the area of Center of Excellence (CoE) development, with their Additive Manufacturing Center of Excellence well underway, there is a clear precedence for their expectations in a CoE. The ExoCoE, will not re-create WearRA, nor is it a body to the tune of $250K per year for “BOPSAT” (bunch of people sitting around talking). It is envisioned to be a collaborative and dynamic entity, a feeder to the standards process. From where I stand, I don’t see any clear “pre-selected” entities or favorites; just an opportunity waiting for fresh ideas. As for the Army – their intent was clearly presented in their RFI. Whereas we would all anticipate the usual suspects to apply, it will be interesting to see how it all pans out and if the Army has an opportunity to see new concepts that are at the requested maturity level that is backed up with independent data on the performance of their system.
As for ASTM and the evolution of exo standards, I am personally not ignorant of the Standards process, having led the Army team that fed the National Institute of Justice first Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) Standard of 2010. Standard processes are not overnight occurrences. That particular standard took five years and major investments from Government enterprises in order to fund the test and evaluation data necessary to build the Standard. The funding was a partnership of leveraged funds, resources, professionals from Army, Justice, and Department of Homeland Security. It was supported by a very diversified body of experts. It took all the kings horses and all the kings men to craft a standard that met a void that needed to be filled. Of utmost interest to the process is that the funding of research be critical to a standard that will allow for the safe deployment of products. Standards are not passive outputs. They are a product of iterative, inclusive and tedious processes and procedures. Standards are consensus-based where a multitude of stakeholders must be heard and the industry brings their voice – because no one is able to better understand the technology. Standards require revisiting, updating and reviewing – which will be very critical to how the exo-related standards will unfold and later be updated as exoskeleton technology becomes more affordable and prominent in the marketplace (or not). The exoskeleton world is relatively young – a feisty teenager – at best, lacking a cohesive message. The fact that the Defense Department and ASTM are both willing to invest in understanding the state of the technology and its nuances is a good sign that there is hope for this evolving capability.
There has been little public information on the Automotive Industry Exo Consortia whereabouts, but we do have knowledge that one of the “big ones” is moving forward with a much anticipated longitudinal study, with hopefully others to follow. The European Union is effervescent in the exoskeleton realm with significant safety, human factors and ergonomic studies emerging out of academic leaders in Germany, Italy and Spain. While we think that not much is happening, because media outputs have been relatively uneventful since last year’s Popular Science, and ReWalk’s new technologies and insurance industry breakthrough (if I haven’t said it enough, I consider Larry Jasinski, CEO ReWalk to be one of the most successful pioneers in the exo space), there seems to be a movement. A movement limited to a handful of “safeguarding” companies that aren’t ready to show their hand and unpublished studies, but things are happening. It’s a game of “wait and see”.
Rita (Rita Gonzalez) Vazquez-Torres is a Senior Technology and Programs Strategist with 20+ years of entrepreneurial government Science and Technology Policy and leadership experience and CEO for NewStoneSoup VT LLC. Rita has served as Senior Industrial Security/Special Security for Special Programs; Business Development/Strategic Outreach Liaison and team leader. more…
DISCLAIMOR: New Stone Soup VT LLC (NSS VT LLC) does not represent any particular vendor or technology developer. NSS VT LLC does not speak on behalf of, represent or commit the government. The views expressed in this commentary represent the views of the author. NSS VT LLC does not take institutional positions.