5 Strategies & Key Players That Could Make Exoskeletons Affordable
Published on 14 Jul, 2016
Powered exoskeletons could be game-changers for plenty of fields like injury rehabilitation and disaster response.
That is of course, if anyone can afford them.
The global market for powered exoskeletons is expected to rise from $68 million in 2014 to $1.8 billion in 2025, a CAGR of 39.6%. Lower-body exoskeletons are going to be a huge driver for that market, with a variety of medical uses in recovery and rehabilitation alone.
The industry has a long way to go to realize that market potential however, with high costs a huge challenge to overcome.
Right now, a pair of powered legs could set you back anywhere between USD 70,000 to 120,000. That’s not inclusive of what you’d need to shell out for service, maintenance, training, and other hidden costs. Even with insurance to foot some of those bills, a disabled person would be hard-pressed to pay the USD 105,000 it’d take every year to keep walking. When you factor in the overall costs, a powered wheelchair seems like a sweeter deal.
The high cost of exoskeletons is causing a catch-22 situation too.
Private funding from venture capitalists is the only way to drive the innovation and growth that the market needs. However, a lack of quick returns on their investment makes investors more than a little sceptical about their prospects. All this while, companies pioneering RnD in this space can’t develop or sell more products until they’ve received additional funding.
The obvious way forward is conserving capital, with key players gravitating toward one or more of these simple cost-cutting strategies:
Stay the Course
Just keep at it.
These players are keeping up product development and testing while expanding their sales and distribution networks. They’re hoping that, in time, the orders will come. They’re optimistic that new technology, materials, as well as better designs could drive down costs enough to make their products viable in the future.
Simplify the Design
Do we really need that?
That’s a key question driving these players, whose simple goal is to drive down costs by doing away with anything that isn’t absolutely essential. They’re asking important questions like Does the motor have to be that powerful?, Can we swap out metal for cheaper (and lighter) plastic?, or Do they really need a cup holder on that?
Focus On a Single Task
Does it really need to do that?
If all you’ve got to do is turn a single screw, you wouldn’t buy a screwdriver set for that would you? By engineering to perform just a single task, companies can reduce the complexity of a design (and its associated costs) significantly.
Low tech, high impact.
Some companies are trying to do away with most electronic (and sometimes electrical) and other technical components, producing a purely mechanical device. Through the clever use of elastic materials and some crafty engineering, they’re trying to create passive exoskeletons that can do the heavy lifting while the wearer takes a load off.
Stay in Research
Do we need to sell that?
Some companies are holding off on plans for a production line just yet, choosing instead to refine their design. Rather than evolving through iterative improvements, they’re banking on the long-term benefits of getting it right the first time; likely hoping to gauge the competition now and enter a mature market with a more robust product.
Here are some of the exoskeleton market’s dominant players and their preferred cost-cutting strategies:
Exoskeletons could become commonplace for day-to-day tasks involving heavy lifting or strenuous physical activity if the industry can bring down the cost of owning one.
A lot of people are waiting for prices to drop soon.
Here’s hoping it's soon enough that we show up to the next Iron Man sequel in a decent suit.