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I attended the WearRAcon19 Conference in Scottsdale this past week with one of my clients. This conference is composed of a community of companies. engineers, and executives that are involved with wearable robotics and exoskeletons.  Most of us are very aware of the latest waves of robots that are inundating the industrial and manufacturing industries including automobile and warehousing.  However, the same type of revolution is taking place in the medical and military industries.


To understand this revolution, let's take a step back and clarify what we mean by exoskeletons and why they are becoming crucial in the medical space.  An exoskeleton, derived from the Greek words for outer and skeleton, is an external skeleton that supports an animal's body (e.g. beetles, grasshoppers, and crabs) as opposed to internal skeletons such as humans have.  The reason today's exoskeletons have been developed is to help patients regain the ability to walk and regain full use of their limbs and to help soldiers to carry heavier loads and to perform better in the field of combat.  I will concentrate on exoskeletons for medical purposes in this column.  


The exoskeletons are being manufactured today by many companies including Ekso Bionics, ReWalk, and Bionic Yantra, and are targeted to patients who are rehabilitating after suffering serious medical events including spinal cord injuries and strokes.  Although many companies have been manufacturing exoskeletons for the last few years, they have recently started to integrate machine learning and Artificial Intelligence into these.  The rationale for this is that there is a need for these exoskeletons to have an intelligent component with measuring sensors built in that will allow them to increase/decrease support as needed by patients as they regain the ability to walk.  Hence, the robotic "thinking" component that needs to be included.


These robotic exoskeletons will become more prevalent in the future in hospitals, in rehabilitation clinics, and in the home.  But to do this, there are three challenges they need to overcome.


First, they need to be SAFE and EASY to put on and take off.  Today, many robotic exoskeletons need multiple Physical Therapists and Assistants to help patients to put them on and to walk with them.  They are both bulky and unsafe.  This is because many of them do not provide the necessary support to prevent patients from falling while wearing them.


Secondly, they need to BECOME MORE AFFORDABLE.  The acquisition cost for many robotic exoskeletons is $100k or more.  In order for these to become affordable to a larger population of patients, they need to be lower priced than a Tesla electric vehicle.


Third, they need to measure a patient's progress accurately and maintain the records of this progress.  The reason for this need is that insurance companies, Medicare, and other agencies and companies that will help to fund their purchase need to know what impact the device has on the patient's rehabilitation.  The economic rationale can be justified only if the medical benefits can be tracked AND measured.


By addressing these three needs and improving performance, robotic exoskeleton companies should be able to overcome the current challenges, help patients that cannot walk today, and expand the market.  My client, Bionic Yantra, is working with Shirley Ryan AbilityLabs in Chicago (one of the world's leading rehabilitation clinics).  This is why I believe it will ultimately address and solve these issues and achieve great success in this space.


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Please do not hesitate to call me at 1 (617) 391-0347 or e-mail me at mariocastaneda@bluesailconsulting.com to talk about this or any other subject.  I always like to hear from clients and readers.  

 

Also, please don't forget to read my interview with BostonVoyager magazine.  To read it, click here.

 

Please do not hesitate to contact us if you need help, as Bionic Yantra did,  with a new and innovative product that addresses a new market space.  We can help you to define your product, create a solid and successful business market strategy, and find funding for the company if needed.

 

I look forward to seeing you here again in May.

 

​Mario

Mario's Corner - April 2019.

Here Come The Robots!  The Future of Medical Robotic Exoskeletons and What It Means for Patients.