The global powerhouse in prosthetics manufacturing, Ottobock, is now set to become a world leader in exoskeleton technology after it acquired a 100% stake in the California-based developer suitX. This is a significant event for the relatively young exo technology field. Over the years, suitX has released both passive occupational exoskeletons (backX, legX, and shoulderX) as well as the FDA-approved Phoenix lower-body gait assist exoskeleton. All of these could integrate well with Ottobock’s portfolio in occupational exoskeletons and medical orthotics. Ottobock Industrials, will be renamed to Ottobock Bionic Exoskeletons and will continue to focus on occupational exoskeletons. The Paexo brand will still be managed from Duderstadt, Germany.
Featured image (above): suitX founder and former CEO Dr. Homayoon Kazerooni (left) will remain with the company in the role of Chief Scientist. Dr. Samuel Reimer (right) heads the U.S. business of Ottobock Bionic Exoskeletons. (photo: Ottobock)
Philipp Schulte-Noelle, CEO of Ottobock, declared: “Together with suitX, Ottobock´s exoskeletons business Paexo will become a world-leading provider of exoskeletons in production, logistics, servicing, and the trade sector. We will jointly create significant socio-economic benefits by improving occupational health for employees while reducing sickness absence and treatment costs for companies and healthcare systems. This transaction increases our footprint and network in North America and comes at the perfect time as we expect the market for occupational exoskeleton solutions to grow dynamically in the coming years.”
Dr. Homayoon Kazerooni said: “I am thrilled about our new chapter of research and innovation with Ottobock. What truly resonates with me is that Ottobock stands for quality of life. Together with Ottobock, we will provide lasting changes to communities worldwide with our state-of-the-art innovation in exoskeleton technologies. I have been lucky to teach and conduct research in Berkeley, a leading public university in the United States. Our research activities on robotic exoskeletons have received both public and private funding. Giving back to the world with our research and innovation is not only our duty, but also an honor. I feel fortunate that I am now put in a position to deliver our life-enhancing medical and industrial exoskeleton products globally. This step is a success not only for suitX but also for the University of California, Berkeley, where entrepreneurial endeavors are fostered to their greatest extent for the good of humans worldwide. I’m looking forward to bringing our technologies to communities internationally with Ottobock for better quality of life. That’s what it is all about, and it makes me very happy.”
While Dr. Kazerooni will stay with the company, it is unclear what will be the future of the remainder of the suitX staff. The suitX team (29 people listed on LinkedIn) has experience with the design and development of both medical and industrial exoskeletons, their testing, maintenance, and implementation. Furthermore, it will give Ottobock a foothold in the U.S. West Coast to supplement their center in Austin, Texas.
Technology and Products:
On the surface, the suitX passive industrial exoskeletons are redundant with the Paexo line. However, the suitX devices have a reputation for providing a higher level of assistance. It is plausible that they could be integrated into a new Paexo-Heavy line with bulkier exos that in return offer more support. The legX could be added directly to the product portfolio. On the medical side, it is likely that the technology behind the Phoenix power walking assist exoskeleton, or even the wearable robot itself will find a new home in the Ottobock catalog. It should be emphasized, that this is purely speculation and neither company has made statements to indicate this.
What the Ottobock Acquisition Means for the Exoskeleton Industry:
There have been exoskeleton company acquisitions in the past, but this one feels different. Ottobock acquiring suitX may be the herald of turning a new page in the exo technology field where the number of predominantly smaller, start-up exoskeleton developers (currently sitting at 132) begins to shrink through mergers and acquisitions.
Over the years, suitX has been very good at keeping California exoskeleton developers like ROAM Robotics, Ekso Bionics, and Levitate Technologies on their toes. Dr. Kazerooni and suitX have done much to popularize wearable robotics technology. Reuter’s article on the Phoenix exoskeleton (And the best medical exoskeleton article for 2017 goes to Reuters!) remains a crowning achievement on humanizing rehabilitation robotics. And who can forget the idea that you can train people’s skills but you can’t train passion from EmTech Asia 2016 Talk & Commentary – Homayoon Kazerooni.
One could argue that suitX, formally US Bionics, should have never existed in the first place. It is hard to imagine how much larger Ekso Bionics would have been if Dr. Kazerooni had remained part of it and the efforts of both companies were combined for the past decade and a half. However, with the Ottobock acquisition of suitX this will forever remain a “What if?” scenario set in the ever so growing distant past.
While we can only guess what the future holds for suitX, you can still view some of our past coverage of the company and its products here.
Ottobock Acquires Exoskeleton Specialist suitX, Ottobock Company Newsroom, Wed, 03 Nov 2021, link