The Exoskeleton Report (ExR) team has published a directory of over 80 companies that are engaged in developing exoskeletons, exosuits, and wearable robots link. The new directory is the spiritual successor of the list of exoskeleton companies that was last updated in 2017 link. That list, of course, was inspired by the Wearable Robotics Association list of wearable robots that was published in 2015 link.
As of the initial publication at the start of 2020, the Exoskeleton Companies and Organizations Directory features 84 unique entries. Unlike the previous lists, the Exoskeleton Directory includes a dedicated search bar and a categorization system, making it easier to browse and search for information than ever before.
The Exoskeleton Report team counts 8 Commercial Exo Developers, 44 Medical Exo Developers, 31 Industrial Exo Developers, 10 Military Developers, 2 News & Information companies that focus at least partially on exoskeletons and 3 exo technology organizations (quite a few companies have projects in more than one category).
While compiling the directory was no small feat, continuously updating it will be a challenge. The ExR team hopes that it can serve as a stepping stone to answering the five basic questions about exoskeletons:
What, Who, Why, Where, When
The directory of exoskeleton developers represents only a small fraction of the information that ideally should be aggregated. When dealing with a new technology field, one should be able to, at the very least, answer the basic questions:
- What are exoskeletons?
- Who is making them?
- Why are exoskeletons being developed?
- Where are they being made?
- When is the technology going to mature?
The information to the above questions should be easily available for any technology sector that is hoping to see a rise in interest and growth.
What is an exoskeleton: To say that this is a question that has been the subject of some debate would be a severe understatement. Over the past five years the perception of what is an exoskeleton, exosuit, wearable robot, biomechatronics device, powered clothing, etc… has been continuously evolving. To this effect, ExR has published the catalog of exoskeleton products. By far, this is not a 100% representation of all the commercially available wearable devices, nor does it include the many research or historical projects. What the list offers is a visual guide to the exoskeleton industry. It is a visual guide to what best constitutes an exoskeleton device based on the most modern definition and interpretation. As the definition changes, new entries are added. In the same way, catalog entries are removed for devices that no longer fit the current boundaries of the industry.
Who is working on exoskeletons? The directory of exoskeleton companies published this month takes a stab at answering which companies are working in this tech field. However, it does not include:
- labs or research groups that are churning through a significant number of exo prototypes (i.e. Wyss Institute, ETH Zürich, …)
- major evaluators of exo technology (i.e. The Kessler Foundation, Shirley Ryan AbilityLab,…)
- major suppliers to exo companies (Harmonic Drive, Maxtor Motors, Portescap,…)
- super users (Toyota, BMW, Airbus,…)
- all organizations (we have captured WearRA, and COST Action CA 16116 but there more…)
Why create exoskeletons? What is the return on investment (ROI) that is anticipated by creating this new technology? How will it change humanity for the better? In 2017 our team published a short article on Why Wearable Exoskeleton Technology? Unfortunately, the article doesn’t have any analytical data to back up its claims. It will be beneficial to have a focused white paper that pulls information for all subsectors of the exo industry while also being objective. For example, it is a mistake to say that X number of people suffer from a stroke each year and therefore they could use a rehabilitation exoskeleton. In reality, only a percentage of this population will go into physical rehabilitation and only a portion of those could potentially benefit from modern rehabilitation technology.
Where are exoskeletons made and used? ExR did publish a map of exoskeleton companies all the way back in 2015. However, it has not been useful because of the high geographical concentration of exo technology to the U.S., Canada, EU, Japan, South Korea, and China. Also, many of the exoskeleton developers have offices on multiple continents, even though they may be relatively small organizations. Finally, it is not uncommon for exoskeletons to be made in one country but be tested on the other side of the world, sometimes walking distance from another exo developer! It appears that the geographical boundaries are less important than economic boundaries. This is likely due to the high cost of developing wearable robots.
When will exo technology mature? There is a saying that there are only two types of market projections: ones that are wrong and ones that are lucky. There are more articles and publications on wearable robotics and exoskeleton technology than ever before! At the same time, however, data from Google Trends does not indicate that there are more people searching or interested in this topic. This question will be left for another time (though the ExR team has attempted to shed light on this subject in the past: When is the Exoskeleton Industry Inflection Point and Where Are The Orders? (2016).
As you can see above, the directory of exoskeleton developers represents only 1/6th of 1/5th of just the basic questions of what, who, why, where, when. This can be called Phase I or “introduction to the exoskeleton industry.” The more difficult questions, like a data vault on published studies and white papers, user selection guides, best use practices,… are not even touched by the basic five questions and represent Phase II reference material that someday will also have to be compiled and made readily available for the industry to see the growth it is expecting and hoping for!