Over the past eight years, exoskeleton companies have come and gone, and so have the organizations that have tried to make sense of this emerging technology field. In this article, we will look at some of the exoskeleton societies, associations, initiatives, and platforms that are or were active in the field of wearable robotics and conclude with a look toward the near future.
Societies and Associations:
The International Industry Society in Advanced Rehabilitation Technology (IISART) was founded in 2011. Interjection, IISART used to have a catalog of physical rehabilitation robots, fixed-frame, and non-tethered medical exoskeletons, which was the inspiration for the Exoskeletons Catalog here. “IISART is dedicated to advance and promote modern healthcare technology in rehabilitation for the benefit of the patient and society at large.” Website: https://iisart.org
The Wearable Robotics Association (WearRA) is perhaps best known for its WearRAcon conference series, which has brought together technologists, investors, and users of wearable robotics worldwide for seven years in a row. The first WearRAcon was held in 2016, and the next one (8th in the series) will be held in New Orleans this March 30-31. “WearRA provides a forum for the wearable robotics community to share ideas and collaborate in a way that expands and improves the ecosystem of technologies and participants.” Website: https://www.wearablerobotics.com
The American Bionics Project is a non-profit organization striving to make the wheelchair obsolete by 2035 through the support of bionics and lower-body exoskeletons. It is a newer organization, registered in 2020 out of New York. Website: https://americanbionics.org
Automotive Exoskeleton Group (AExG) is a WearRA-sponsored industry group for automotive manufacturers to share their experiences with exoskeleton technology from the point of view of super-users. The group holds quarterly meetings. Website: https://www.aexg.org
Human Factors and Ergonomics Society (HFES) aims to advance technology for the benefit of humanity. HFES is interested in occupational wearables but rarely puts together exoskeleton-exclusive material, with the exception of the yearly ErgoX Symposium exoskeleton track. Website: https://www.hfes.org
Exoskeleton Standards & Benchmarking Organization
ASTM International Committee F48 on Exoskeletons and Exosuits was announced in 2017 (see: Announcing the Formation of ASTM Committee F48 on Exoskeletons and Exosuits). To date, F48 has published 22 exoskeleton-related consensus standards and is about to hold its 11th all-hands meeting. Each company or organization that is participating holds one vote. Website: link
Exo Technology Center of Excellence (ET CoE) is a research arm of F48 with a laser focus on research to standards. It is one of only two centers of excellence created by ASTM International. The CoE, headed by Dr. William Billotte, has financially backed exoskeleton studies and surveys and is involved in multiple collaboration initiatives (another interjection, ExR, is a founding member of the CoE). “Pursuing Safe & Reliable Exo Technologies for Humanity,” reads the motto on its website: https://www.etcoe.org
ISO/TC 299 on Collaborative Robotics generates standards on robotic devices that work closely with people, including exoskeletons. The committee was created in 2015 and has published 26 standards, some of which are related to wearable robotics. Website: https://www.iso.org/committee/5915511.html
Get2Excel was proposed as an international exoskeleton standards organization by José L. Pons, who wrote the book on wearable robotics. The organization, if restarted, would focus on research, benchmarking, and standardization of exo technology. Website: https://get2excel.org
EUROBENCH European robotic framework for bipedal locomotion benchmarking was an EU HORIZON 2020-funded program that built two testing facilities with a 3 to 4 split in favor of exoskeleton testing over walking robots. The project concluded with a two-day recorded event to summarize results, highlight gaps, and potential future work (see : EUROBENCH Summit 2022 Recap). Website: https://eurobench2020.eu
Groups and Initiatives
EXSKALLERATE is a European Regional Development Fund-sponsored program that “contributes to SME competitiveness and occupational health by making the North Sea Region a leading exoskeleton ecosystem.” It has collaborated with over 40 sites that may be suitable for occupational exoskeleton introduction. Website: https://northsearegion.eu/exskallerate/
COST Action CA16116 (European cooperation in science and technology project) was a four-year project led by Dr. Jan Veneman, focusing on wearable robots for augmentation, assistance, or substitution of human motor function. During its time, the project published surveys, webinars, papers, and a highly unusual winter school in the Alps for wearable devices (link to topic tag). Website: https://www.cost.eu/actions/CA16116/
Wearable Technologies is the “first journal dedicated to publishing original research, review articles, and industrial developments related to wearable devices.” One of the first articles published on it, “Occupational exoskeletons: A roadmap toward large-scale adoption. Methodology and challenges of bringing exoskeletons to workplaces,” deserves a special shout-out for its thoughtfulness. Website: link
International Consortium for Rehabilitation Robotics (ICORR) hosts a conference with the assistance of IEEE roughly once every two years to share knowledge and promote collaboration in rehabilitation robotics research. In 2023 the conference will take place in Singapore from September 24-28 as part of Rehab Week. Website: http://icorr-c.org
One would be forgiven if one thought that exoskeleton adoption (or sales) is seeing exponential growth with these past and present exoskeleton organizations. However, there is no evidence of that.
At the end of March, WearRA will host a panel on the future of the Wearable Robotics Association: how can it be more engaging beyond conferences and better serve the exoskeleton industry? If you have an opinion, share it in the comments below, or you can contact us here directly.