Exoskeletons have been in existence for quite some time, but demand for these rehabilitative products has grown in recent years and is expected to bolster the worldwide market's worth to $3.34 billion by 2026, according to Markets and Markets data. Growth factors include advancements in robotic technologies and huge investments for exoskeleton technology development.
Ottobock, DIH Medical, CYBERDYNE, Ekso Bionics, Lockheed Martin Corporation, ATOUN, BIONIK, B-Temia, MediTouch, ReWalk Robotics, Daiya Industry, Europe Technologies, Exhauss, Focal Meditech BV, Fourier Intelligence, Gogoa Mobility, Honda Motor Co., Hyundai Motors, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Myomo, Parker Hannifin, P&S Mechanics, Rex Bionics, suitX, and Wandercraft are among the market's key players.
Ottobock was ranked first in the exoskeleton market in 2020, with an approximately 7%–8% market share. Ottobock has been developing innovative products for more than a century, offering services under the Ottobock SE & Co. KGaA name (established in 2018 to channel the company’s medtech expertise into sustainably healthy workplaces). Since 1919, products and technologies from Ottobock have been helping people gain new freedom of movement and avoid potential complications.
Initially, the company started patient treatment by producing prosthetic components. Since then, the company has focused on developing microprocessor-controlled knee joints such as the C-Leg (which can be controlled via an app), the computer-controlled C-Brace leg orthosis, the multi-articulating bebionic hand, Juvo power wheelchairs, and the Paexo exoskeleton range for ergonomic workplaces. Ottobock Paexo designs and produces exoskeletons. The company offers a variety of exoskeletons for the entire body. From the most researched exoskeleton, the Paexo Shoulder, which provides relief for overhead work, to the newest addition, the Paexo Back, a technical solution for load handling in the logistics industry, Paexo exoskeletons are shaping the future of work. The Paexo series also includes support for the wrist, neck, lower back, and even the thumb.
DIH Medical held the second position in the exoskeleton market in 2020, with a 4%–5% market share. DIH Medical develops robotics and intelligent systems for rehabilitation and sports medicine, and intelligent medication and supply. As the parent company behind the Hocoma, Motek, and other brands, DIH products can be found in top hospitals, clinics, and research facilities worldwide in fields such as robotics, augmented reality, virtual reality, and artificial intelligence. The company has a wide distribution network across Asia-Pacific, Europe, the Middle East, Africa, North America, and South America. The company offers a wide range of rehabilitation and physical therapy solutions using robotic products. The company has different types of rehabilitation products for arm and hand, gait and balance, and strength endurance, all marketed under brand names such as Hocoma, Motek, and SafeGait Solutions.
Robot-assisted therapy systems are being increasingly used in rehabilitation processes as they provide countless benefits in performing repeated movements during goal-directed tasks, the evaluation of different physiological and functional parameters during rehabilitation exercises, improving motivation, and assisting home exercises and training.
The use of exoskeletons for such purposes has grown, in part, due to the increase in the number of people with physical disabilities, especially the geriatric population. In 2019, 28.4% of Japan's total population (35.89 million people, or. one in every four persons) was aged 65 or older, a record high, according to the Statistics Bureau of Japan. This statistic demonstrates there are more potential users for humanoid robots but also indicates that the number of caregivers for the elderly and disabled are dwindling. The same phenomenon is occurring in North America, where the 65-and older population increased 35%, from 38.8 million in 2008 to 52.4 million in 2018, Administration on Aging data show. That population group is projected to reach 94.7 million in 2060.
User safety and device reliability are the main concerns in the development and regulation of medical devices. Manufacturers’ skills and expertise pertaining to technical designing can matter during the testing of the product. The malfunctioning of a medical device can lead to life-threatening consequences, and hence, exoskeletons developed for healthcare applications need to be thoroughly examined. Currently, there are a few standards that are directly applicable to the exoskeleton industry. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recognizes ISO standards that are applicable to relevant industries, and only products that receive regulatory approvals can be sold in the market.
Years of research has resulted in the transformation of load systems into human augmentation equipment. As exoskeleton systems can enhance powerlifting, load carrying, and endurance functions; the market has received a series of funding from the department of defense of several nations. Also, the market for exoskeletons is exhibiting an upbeat growth outlook, which, coupled with growing awareness about these devices in different fields, is attracting more investments in the industry—especially from private venture capitalists. Various exoskeletons developed to date are effectively designed and tested for mechanical structure (accessories such as guns, dead weight, devices, and others) and support soldiers in augmenting main body strength. Also, exoskeletons provide very strong load-supporting assistance with the freedom of decoupling the load at the same time. Such features of exoskeletons aid soldiers in carrying heavy loads. Several companies that are engaged in providing exoskeletons for military applications include Lockheed Martin, B-Temia, Bionic Power, Fourier Intelligence, and suitX.
Technological advancements have played a big role in developing cost-efficient and affordable exoskeletons; however, they are yet to reach their market potential. The degree of usability of exoskeletons is a major issue being faced by the industry as exoskeletons are slow and cumbersome. Cost acts as a barrier for adopting exoskeletons for rehabilitation among people with disabilities in low-income countries. A patient with a lower limb disability must pay a high price for an exoskeleton power suit for robotic rehabilitation, along with the supervision session conducted by physiotherapists trained to work with power suits. A patient must pay for the exoskeleton and other standard medical expenses such as surgery and hospital stay, making the use of the exoskeleton incredibly expensive. Hence, the companies in the industry are focusing on R&D to develop cost-efficient exoskeleton solutions.