Across a range of applications, exoskeletons are increasingly being introduced to augment human capability; for assistive purposes in the workplace, and for enabling and rehabilitative purposes for the healthcare market. Though a technology that has been talked about since the Sixties, exoskeletons are only now beginning to demonstrate their practical value. As of 2018, global shipments stand at 7 thousand units with a global hardware revenue of US$192 million. But, this is all expected to change very rapidly, with total shipments expected to reach over 91 thousand by 2023 and 301 thousand by 2028. Global revenue for the suits will increase US$5.8 billion in 2028, according to ABI Research, a market-foresight advisory firm providing strategic guidance on the most compelling transformative technologies.
“The market gets healthier with each passing month. The culmination of start-up activity, an increasingly permissive regulatory environment, improving drive and materials technology, and partnerships with larger corporations suggest the exo-market is in the best position it has ever been,” said Rian Whitton, Robotics Research Analyst at ABI Research. Companies such as Sarcos, German Bionic, and Indego (Parker Hannifin) are driving adoption across both the industrial and healthcare sectors.
Until very recently, Exoskeletons have been something of a novelty, but now, advancements in the technology have made them viable for developed economies. For example, power consumption has been a longstanding problem and now the efficiency of battery technology has extended the viable use-time for powered exo-suits. German Bionic, a manufacturer of upper-body powered exo-suits, uses a replaceable lithium-ion battery that lasts up to 8 hours on the factory floor.
Considering that the aging population and systemic skills shortage in developed countries is forcing companies to invest more in the workforce they already have, exoskeletons will become a force-multiplier in improving productivity, and in avoiding and mitigating against injuries. In the long run, their adoption will save billions of dollars of waste every year accrued from lost hours due to physical injury. The future value of exoskeletons is not limited to industry, however. The deployment of rehabilitation-focused exoskeletons by companies like Parker Hannifin and Cyberdyne showcases their potential in the enormous global Health market.
Now though, the momentum for exoskeletons is in the workspace. Sarcos Robotics, which plans to release its full-body exoskeleton in 2019, is targeting most industrial markets, from manufacturing and warehousing to construction and extraction. Large tier-ones and OEM’s are taking note, from General Electric and Caterpillar to the Ford Motor Company, exoskeletons are being deployed at an accelerating rate.
In terms of market revenue, the distribution is tilted heavily towards industrial and commercial applications. The industrial market for exoskeletons (including manufacturing, construction, utilities etc.) is expected to reach revenues of US$ 2.8 billion by 2028, while by the same time, commercial use-cases (notably health and warehouse logistics) will be worth US$ 2 billion.
But there are barriers to exoskeleton adoption. Exoskeletons are still expensive and the deployment of these complex systems requires further partnerships between OEM’s, distributors and service providers. More work needs to be done in creating modular platforms that can be retrofitted with a range of capable end-effectors to widen market appeal. There also must be increased emphasis placed on the data collection and cognitive capabilities of exoskeletons; as autonomous smart devices that provide valuable insights to floor managers regarding worker performance and health.
On most trade-floors and industry events related to robotics, exoskeletons have yet to garner the attention of other innovative robotic technologies, namely collaborative robots and autonomous vehicles. “As their value across a wide range of verticals becomes more apparent and services lower the barriers to adoption, this will change rapidly,” Whitton concludes.
These findings are from ABI Research’s Robotic Exoskeletons: Classes, Markets, and Applications report. This report is part of the company’s Robotics, Automation & Intelligent Systems research service, which includes research, data, and Executive Foresights.
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