An exoskeleton — a wearable robotic suit with an integrated system of computers — is designed to restore and augment movement in patients with limb paralysis. These suits allow patients to mobilize and participate in various activities of daily living.
Exoskeletons improve function, mobility, and productivity; they also prevent occupational injuries associated with repetitive and strenuous movements.
A full-body exoskeleton is accessible to the general public for a price between $70,000 and $85,500.
Research on brain-controlled exoskeletons is promising, and they will likely be more accessible to the general public in the near future.
They can also be used by people without paralysis to improve productivity and prevent injuries associated with heavy and repetitive lifting. But beware, exoskeletons are costly, and finding one for personal use can be a challenge.
Types of exoskeletons and their costs
Not all exoskeletons are created equally. They have different intended uses and their costs can vary drastically. We'll discuss two of the most popular types below.
SARCOS is one of the leading robotics companies designing and manufacturing exoskeletons for preventing injury and augmenting human strength. The Guardian XO full-body exoskeleton is the latest invention by SARCOS, and it is the world's first battery-powered exoskeleton combining human intelligence, instinct, and judgment with the power, endurance, and precision of machines.
This body suit bears its weight, and it allows the user to lift roughly 200 pounds for up to 8 hours with ease. It has been shown to dramatically reduce work-related injuries and boost productivity. Currently, the Guardian XO full-body exoskeleton is available for rent for just over $100,000 per year. While this is likely out of reach for many individuals, considering the Guardian XO improves productivity, it may be more applicable in an industrial setting where its use can also yield higher profit margins.
Rewalk Robotics prides itself in designing innovative exoskeletons for improving mobility and function of the lower limbs specifically in people affected by neurological disorders, including strokes and spinal cord injuries. The Rewalk battery-powered exoskeleton features a light frame with powered motors at the knee and hip joints. In addition, it comes with a remote-control watch on which the user selects the type of movement they would like to perform from a list of pre-programmed movements.
This assistive device can be used for up to 8 hours on a single battery charge. Despite its many benefits, the Rewalk exoskeleton is priced at a whopping $71,600 for a personal device and $85,500 for an institutional device, with an undisclosed amount in annual service fees.
Clinatec is a medical device company using cutting-edge technologies to improve the effects of disability and neurological conditions. Recently, Clinatec developed an exoskeleton that is controlled purely by the user’s imagination via electrodes implanted on the surface of the brain areas controlling movement.
For example, a movement intention in the brain generates movement signals which are then transferred from the implanted electrodes and translated into corresponding movements by the exoskeleton. The use of this technology is still in its infancy, and Clinatec is currently improving it for personal use. For now, patients can train with this exoskeleton in the Clinatec labs where the exoskeleton is harnessed on the ceiling to prevent patients from falling. This exoskeleton is estimated to cost over $250,000 (including surgery costs) when it goes public.
Cyberdyne is a technology and robotics company known for its ground-breaking Hybrid Assistive Limb (HAL) technology. The technology aims to restore and augment limb movements via signals generated by muscle contractions. For instance, when preparing to move a limb, the brain generates movement signals resulting in the contraction of the muscles in the corresponding limb. The HAL technology then converts the faint muscle contractions into movements of the exoskeleton. The HAL exoskeleton is available to patients meeting the eligibility criteria for a once-off cost of $20,000.
Innovative exoskeletons have shown many benefits, not only in healthcare settings but also in industrial settings. Their day-to-day relevance and application are ever-increasing, and this may stoke further interest from potential buyers. Nevertheless, exoskeletons are not readily accessible to everyone because most manufacturing companies do not sell to individuals. Moreover, the cost of buying an exoskeleton is way over what regular citizens can afford. It is expected that exoskeletons will be more accessible and relatively cheaper over time.
- Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. A review of commercially available exoskeletons' capabilities.
- Journal of Neuro Engineering and Rehabilitation. Budget impact analysis of robotic exoskeleton use for locomotor training following spinal cord injury in four SCI Model Systems.
- Applied Ergonomics. The influence of using exoskeletons during occupational tasks on acute physical stress and strain compared to no exoskeleton – A systematic review and meta-analysis.
- Technologies. An Affordable Upper-Limb Exoskeleton Concept for Rehabilitation Applications.