miércoles, 16 de enero de 2019

The inevitable rise of exoskeletons

According with the wikipedia, an exoskeleton (from Greek έξω, éxō "outer" and σκελετός, skeletós "skeleton") is the external skeleton that supports and protects an animal's body, in contrast to the internal skeleton (endoskeleton) of, for example, a human. However, technology is on the brink to introduce a substantial change on this definition, as in matter of years the so-called "powered exoskeleton" will be what we call simply exoskeleton. Soon, the wearable mobile machines that are powered by some kind of technology and provide limb movements with increased strength and endurance will be, at least, as popular as the crustacean shells.

Among the multiple fields of robotics development, exoskeletons look as an incomplete robots that in some manner can be fully and easily controlled by humans, and therefore raises less concerns. Perhaps, that is the rationale behind why exoskeleton sector is beginning to show its applicability in many fields. There are almost commercial projects for the usage in constructing areas and airports where are needed to move and lift big things or to practice demanding sports without tiredness, even for a less nice purpose as the usage at wars. Furthermore, these applications are thought to be the tip of the iceberg. According with ABI Research robotic exoskeleton sales will jump from $97 million globally in 2016 to $1.9 billion by 2025.

In the list of applications above, there has not been included one that raises may hopes: the usage of exoskeleton for therapeutic purposes, helping people with disabilities to walk and move again freely and by their own. ABI research predicts almost a quarter of the 100,000 exoskeleton suits sold in 2025 will be for people with disabilities. Nevertheless, the current prices, starting in 80,000 $ and beyond, makes that this humble forecast even quite high.

However, it looks that exoskeletons are beginning to enter in the health systems as another treatment in the list. In the USA, it looks it is starting its spreading, based as usual on the size of your purse. In a recent article, the wonders of the usage of exoskeleton in an American Hospital are combined with the description of the sad reality that the patient had to asked his mother for part of his inheritance in order to pay for it. In this side of the Atlantic, hopefully they will enter soon as part as the Public Health Systems. The German Government has already included an Exoskeleton model in the Official List of medical aids, which means a degree of obligation on insurers to pay.

Exoskeletons look as the ideal spearhead for the introduction of robotics in society and economy. They are not only multipurpose, but also they can be considered more as a tool to augment human capacity than a substitute and they appear as less autonomous than robots, decreasing the fears to automatisation. The needed State intervention to make them affordable in some uses would also act as a driver to boost their production beyond the current predictions, and therefore provoke a general affordability. Maybe I´am wrong, but all the signs point to the rise of exoskeletons.

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