In the 1960s a new, state-of-the-art automobile engine factory was built. As production settled in, new hires were shuttled through an introductory job. They were assigned the task of depalletizing engine blocks. Yes, 50-lb. to 75-lb. hunks of cast steel. Lifting from the pallet to the production line.

If you survived, you could move on to another department.

Technology ethically should be developed and deployed to make humans better. In this case a series of technologies from robots to ergonomic hand tools has made that plant—and all similar plants—much safer and humane.

One new technology to watch is exoskeletons. These are devices that will be a great help to humans performing tasks beyond human capability. Beyond manufacturing, think of the possibilities for assisting elderly or disabled people.

Here is a report from ABI Research detailing the latest on the market for these devices.

The Exoskeleton market continues to beat previous forecasts and will continue to attract outside attention from large-scale end-users, according to ABI Research, a market-foresight advisory firm providing strategic guidance on the most compelling transformative technologies.

Though a technology that has been talked about since the sixties, exoskeletons are now beginning to demonstrate their practical value with worldwide shipments expected to reach 91,000 by 2023 and 301,000 by 2028. Global revenue for the suits will increase to US$5.8 billion in 2028, according to ABI Research, a market-foresight advisory firm providing strategic guidance on the most compelling transformative technologies. Industry will be the largest single market for exoskeletons, with hardware revenue in this sector growing from US$104 million in 2018 to US$2.9 billion in 2028; a CAGR of 39.5%

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 almost US$3 billion by 2028, while by the same time, commercial use-cases (notably health and warehouse logistics) will be worth over US$2 billion.

“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 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.

Exoskeletons can be distinguished into two broad categories; those with active or powered suits with a power source, and passive suits that don’t help lift so much as help distribute weight and improve the user’s comfort. Of these two, powered suits are going to be the primary source of revenue for the wider industry going forward due to their lift capability and increased utility.

Lower-body exoskeletons- which have both applications in the Health and Industrial markets, are likely to be the most numerous systems as they have wide use-cases across differing markets. However, upper-body exoskeletons that help amplify human lifting performance and keeping heavy objects in place will be adopted at a faster pace in the industrial space. Already, companies like Ford are deploying upper-body powered devices from Ekso Bionics in their factories. Comau has teamed up with Ossur to build a passive upper-body exoskeleton for industrial use, while German medical giant Ottobock has leveraged its expertise in prosthetics to build passive industrial exoskeleton. German Bionic is offering a powered suit that provides lumbar support to workers in industrial and intralogistics environments and is building on the opportunities of Europe by targeting distributors in Japan- where the strategic drivers of exoskeleton demand, labor shortages, and aging workforces- are even more acute.

Full-body exoskeletons, particularly powered variants, are generally more expensive than their partial counterparts, yet their development holds the promise of more comprehensive solutions that significantly amplify human capability, both in terms of lifting heavy objects and preserving stamina in laborious occupations. Among the leaders in this field is Sarcos Robotics, who plan to launch to heavy-duty full-body suits next year under a service model. The technology is being anticipated by a wide range of vendors, including GM, Delta Airlines, Caterpillar, and construction giant Bechtel.

These findings are from ABI Research’s Robotic Exoskeletons Annual Update 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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