Exoskeletons might first make you think about insects, or sci-fi, but practically speaking, they offer a great deal of potential for added protection, off-loading, extended endurance and increased mobility. While most exoskeletons contain rigid elements that can restrict natural movement, non-rigid approaches exist, but must still be strapped to the body. In most cases, the weight of the exoskeleton is borne by the wearer through the body interfaces, therefore, these systems have the potential to increase the risk for injury unless some key questions are addressed. In nature there are many examples of creatures with both a hard protective exoskeletons as well as softer, hair-based and flexible exoskeletons. Some animals have both an endoskeleton and an exoskeleton, but in all cases, there is an interface between the “harder” protective portion and the “softer” fleshy portion of the animal. The design of these types of creatures offer biomimetic and bio-inspired approaches toward an effective human-exoskeleton interface. An effective interface is one that considers natural human movement, minimizes the forces exerted on or carried by the body and results in negligible long-term injury to the wearer.
According to BCC Research, the global market for bionic devices, which includes exoskeletons, limbs and appendages (e.g., hands, feet, fingers), hearts, ears, and eyes, reached $2.8 billion and $3.2 billion in 2015 and 2016 respectively. The market should reach $6.4 billion by 2021, growing at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 15.2% from 2016 to 2021; and $12.1 billion by 2026 at a CAGR of 13.6% from 2021 to 2026. In terms of these segments, the bionics market for sensory devices reached $1.7 billion in 2016. The market should reach $4.1 billion by 2021, growing at a CAGR of 18.9% from 2016 to 2021; and $8.4 billion by 2026 at a CAGR of 15.1% from 2021 to 2026. The bionics market for limbs and exoskeleton reached $297 million in 2016. The market should reach $550 million by 2021, growing at a CAGR of 13.1% from 2016 to 2021; and $1.1 billion by 2026 at a CAGR of 15.3% from 2021 to 2026. While some bionic devices are commercially available at present, the real market for bionics is long-term. The report therefore will focus mainly on identifying bionic technologies that are under development and the conditions that will determine which ones reach the market and the quantities that could potentially be sold. Given the long-term nature of the market, the report has a 10-year time frame (i.e., 2016 to 2026).
MarketsandMarkets reports that the exoskeleton market is expected to grow from $299.8 million in 2017 to $2,810.5 million by 2023, at a CAGR of 45.2% between 2017 and 2023. The market is mainly driven by the factors such as the growing demand from healthcare sector for robotic rehabilitation, advancements in robotic technologies, and huge investments for the development of exoskeleton technology. The healthcare vertical is already a major consumer of mobile exoskeletons, and because of its added advantages, these exoskeletons can also find applications in several new verticals, such as defense, sports and fitness, and search and rescue. Regionally, the Americas accounted for the largest share of the overall exoskeleton market in 2016. The Americas, being the early adopter of exoskeletons for all major verticals such as healthcare, industrial, and defense and a home to some well-known players in the exoskeleton market, has the maximum demand for exoskeletons.
In terms of the medical exoskeleton market, MarketsandMarkets reports that it is projected to reach USD 571.6 million by 2023 from USD 85.7 million in 2017, at a CAGR of 37.4% during the forecast period. The base year considered for the study is 2017 and the forecast period is from 2018 to 2023. MnM attributes this growth to factors such as an increasing number of people with physical disabilities and subsequent growth in the demand for effective rehabilitation approaches and increasing insurance coverage for medical exoskeletons in several countries. The key players in the exoskeleton market are Bionik Laboratories (Canada), B-Temia (Canada), CYBERDYNE (Japan), Ekso Bionics (US), Focal Meditech (Netherlands), DIH Technologies (China), Hyundai Motor (South Korea), Lockheed Martin (US), Meditouch (Israel), Ottobock (Germany), ReWalk Robotics (Israel), Exhauss (France), Fourier Intelligence (China), GOGOA Mobility Robots (Spain), P&S Mechanics (South Korea), suitX (US), ATOUN (Japan), Daiya Industry Co. (Japan), Honda Motor (Japan), MITSUBISHI HEAVY INDUSTRIES (Japan), PARKER HANNIFIN (US), Rex Bionics (New Zealand), Gobio Robot (France), Myomo (US), and Wandercraft (France). All these companies have robust R&D facilities and extensive sales offices and distribution channels. The products of these companies can be used across verticals for various applications.
Frost & Sullivan notes that one potential end-use area for exoskeletons is in factory environments, which may be characterized by increased worker absenteeism arising from post-related injuries resulting in Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSD). This in turn impacts the factory floor, in terms of increased costs arising from unsuitable factory environment, poor productivity and low-quality finished goods. The exoskeleton technology has evolved over the years from an external cover to potential industrial applications given that it has the ability to empower individuals, improve ergonomics and provide safety to factory workers.
Given the potential applicability of exoskeletons to a variety of verticals ranging from industry to defense, numerous Federal agencies have shown interest in this area. For example, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), Office of Environmental Management (EM) hosted a technical interchange meeting on industrial exoskeletons in 2017 as part of an interagency collaboration among the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), and the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center (NSRDEC), and DoD went on to host one in 2018.