Google Trends is a powerful and free tool that reveals the frequency of search terms and relates to the popularity of search queries over time. It is capable of capturing interest in exoskeleton technology by analyzing (and normalizing) billions of web searches from around the globe. This allows us to indirectly assess if interest in the exoskeleton industry is growing or shrinking and also compare the volume of searches for exoskeleton technology to other topics. The data pool can be global or country-specific, with up to five search terms compared at the same time.
Exoskeleton vs. Exoskeletons
The Google Trends data from 2004 to the present for the terms “exoskeleton,” “exoskeletons,” “powered exoskeleton,” and “powered exoskeletons” reveals that “exoskeleton” is the most popular choice typed by Google users, with the highest search volume registered on November 2014 (all data is normalized to the search results from that month). The popular game Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare was released in November of 2016, and it does feature fictional exoskeletons and powered armor suits. These advanced suits play a crucial role in the gameplay. Other than the world soccer cup that featured a powered exoskeleton for the opening kick in June 2016, there is no major real-life news from that period. There were no featured films prominently featuring wearable technology that opened in 2016 either. It is, therefore, safe to assume that the release of the video game Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, which sold more than 10 million copies worldwide, was responsible for the single anomaly spike in search results for “exoskeleton” in November 2014. (Google Trends then normalizes the search volume to that highest value in November 2014 and reports all other months as a percentage of the peak).
The United States’ trends for exoskeleton and powered exoskeleton (plural and singular) are nearly identical. Note that it is not obvious what the cause of the spike in searches in April 2022 is in both the US and worldwide data. As in the data set above, we can see that more people searched for “exoskeleton” until 2016, at which time search volume began to decrease until another inflection point at the start of 2022.
Another feature provided by Google Trends is to view the related searches of the users used to generate the previous data sets. From this, we can see that people who queried “exoskeletons” (plural) were far more likely to be searching for information on insects and animals, regardless if they were searching from the US or another country. From the data above, we can conclude that queries in Google for “exoskeleton” is a noisy data set that includes fictional ones from movies and video games as well as biological ones that are a part of insects. Regardless, this is one of the very few tools available to gauge the interest of the general public in this technology.
Comparing Against Other Keywords
Comparing like terms, “exoskeleton” was featured in Google searches between 2004 to 2023 more often than either “exosuit” or “wearable robotics.” The search term “wearable” is seeing an increase in searches, reaching an all-time highest query frequency in Dec 2022. Google users also searched with more frequency for “3D printing,” which is shown above for comparison purposes.
Finally, we can compare the search volume for “exoskeleton” with some popular technologies. “Virtual reality” as a search term appears to be on the decline, while searches for “artificial intelligence” are increasing, likely due to talk surrounding Chat GPT and Microsoft and Google announcing their own AI tools. In comparison, searches for “exoskeleton” have been more consistent and with fewer dramatic changes between 2004 to today.
In conclusion, data from Google Trends need to be analyzed with caution. Without a doubt, searches for fictional and animal exoskeletons are mixed in with those trying to find more information on practical exoskeleton devices. Search volume for exoskeleton and related terms has remained flat over the past five years, and it has not seen dramatic trend shifts as we can observe with other technologies. Searches for exos remain flat, and there is no supporting evidence from the data set that the technology is being popularized faster, nor that the exo industry is in a trough of despair.
Google Trends, accessed on March 2023, https://trends.google.com/