Industrial and Medical Exoskeleton: Current Landscape and Future Market Outlook

Originally used in biology, the term exoskeleton refers to a chitinous or calcified external skeleton used by various animal taxa for structural support and defense against predators. Drawing from a similar concept, in the field of robotics, exoskeletons are wearable electromechanical devices that have been developed as augmentative devices to enhance the physical performance of able body users or are used as orthotic devices for assisting locomotion in disabled wearers. Broadly, wearable exoskeleton market can be classified into two major categories, namely medical and non-medical exoskeletons.

The first class includes exoskeletons that aim to provide guided movement to patients with mobility impairments (therapeutic), provide support to regain strength, mobility and endurance after an injury (rehabilitation) or help people with disabilities perform daily tasks more independently than they could otherwise manage (assistive). In addition, several exoskeletons can help healthcare workers, such as doctors and nurses in physically demanding tasks and repetitive work to avoid back injuries. The second class, non-medical exoskeletons are intended to be worn by operators working across different industries, such as logistics, construction, mining, military and agriculture. Their primary purpose is to enhance the wearer’s capability of carrying heavy loads with minimal effort, as well as to increase their speed and stamina. It is interesting to note that several companies have developed exoskeletons with special properties. These include exoskeletons with insulation for people working in electrical construction industries to protect them from high-voltage electric damage working, as well as products with inherent thermal regulation for miners, fire fighters and disaster relief workers to regulate the hot environment for a long time.

The exoskeleton market is witnessing substantial growth, propelled by technological advancements in both medical and non-medical domains. In the medical sector, exoskeletons now integrate artificial intelligence, gaming features, AR / VR, haptic feedback and neural control. These features, coupled with heightened awareness and an ageing population, have fueled the demand for medical exoskeletons. In the non-medical realm, particularly in industries like construction and manufacturing, the rising costs associated with musculoskeletal injuries have led to a surge in the use of industrial exoskeletons. In smart factories, the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) facilitates seamless integration of exoskeletons to enhance worker safety and productivity. The below given figure provides an illustrative summary of the benefits of medical and industrial exoskeletons.

Benefits of Medical & Industrial Exoskeletons Market

Medical Exoskeleton: Current Market Landscape

Presently, more than 200 medical exoskeleton are being commercialized / investigated across various stages of development by close to 100 companies for the treatment of neurological disorders and related injuries.
The below figure presents the distribution of medical exoskeleton, based on type of body part covered and form.

Medical Exoskeleton Market by Body Part Covered & Form

It is worth highlighting that 55% of the medical exoskeleton aid in movement of the lower extremity, followed by those that support the upper extremity. Further, most (79%) of the lower body medical exoskeleton are rigid. This can be attributed to the fact that the rigid frame of the medical exoskeletons assists in weight-bearing, which is crucial for those with weak or compromised musculoskeletal systems. Further, rigid exoskeletons offer a higher degree of safety, as they can provide precise control over joint movements. This is essential to prevent unintended movements or instability, especially in medical applications wherein patient safety is paramount. On the other hand, the majority (53%) of the upper extremity exoskeletons are soft. Since these exosuits reduce inertia due to their lightweight, they allow more efficient movement of the user and reduce discomfort, which is especially important for long-term use. Examples of soft exoskeletons include (in alphabetical order) Carbonhand (Bioservo Technologies), Emovo Assist (Emovo Care), HandTutor (MediTouch), IpsiHand (NeuroSolutions), Nuada Glove (Nuada) and SINFONIA (Gloreha).

Non-Medical Exoskeleton: Current Market Landscape

Over 95 players claim to offer close to 220 non medical exoskeleton across various applications; of these, 81% are available in the market.
The below figure presents the distribution of non-medical exoskeleton, based on mode of operation and form.

Non Medical Exoskeleton Market by Mode of Operation & Form

It is worth highlighting that 61% of the non-medical exoskeleton are passive in nature. This can be attributed to the fact that passive exoskeletons are cost-effective for widespread industrial applications and serve the purpose of relieving the user from the payload or bodyweight without the need for actuators. Some examples of passive exoskeleton include (in alphabetical order) Archelis FX (Archelis), CarrySuit (Auxivo), CEXO-S01 (C-Exoskeleton Technology), EXOARMS (Cyber Human Systems) and HAPO SD (ErgoSanté). In addition, the majority of the powered, passive and hybrid exoskeletons are rigid as they can exert a higher assistive torque to the user’s body.

Partnerships and Collaborations: Players Globally Combining Expertise and Sharing Resources to Shape the Future of Exoskeleton Technology

Stakeholders in the exoskeleton industry are known to adopt a variety of partnership models to collaborate with other companies / organizations for specific purposes. Such deals are inked to not only allow companies to expand their respective product portfolios, but also gain additional capabilities related to emerging technologies. During our research, we came across more than 130 partnerships and collaborations that have been established between various stakeholders engaged in this domain. The below figure presents the distribution of partnerships and collaborations, based on geography.

Exoskeleton Industry Partnership & Collaborations by Geography

Most of the deals were inked by players based in Asia-Pacific. The majority of these deals were signed within the same continent. This is followed by intracontinental deals inked by players based in Europe.

It is worth noting that more than 70% of the agreements were signed between players based in different countries (international agreements). Majority of such agreements were inked by players based in China, followed by Japan. Examples of such deals include agreements between Fourier Intelligence and MyndTec (May 2023), H-Robotics and Rehabmart (November 2022), and Angel Robotics and Daehan Rehabilitation Hospital (August 2022).

Patents: Reflecting the Intellectual Capability Expansion of Players to Safeguard Innovations

Through multiple years of research, development, acquisition and in-licensing, the stakeholders engaged in the field of exoskeletons have amassed a core set of technologies and intellectual property rights. In fact, more than 3,000 patents have been granted / filed related to medical and industrial exoskeleton, demonstrating the heightened pace of research in this domain. The patents have been increasing rapidly at a CAGR of 25%, between 2016 and 2020.

The below figure presents the distribution of patents, based on year and type of patent.

Exoskeletons Market By Patent Analysis

It is worth highlighting that over 1,100 patents were filed in 2022 and 2021, whereas close to 130 patents were granted in both years. Notably, Ekso Bionics, Safran Electronics & Defense, B-Temia, Shenzhen Chwishay Intelligent and Roam Robotics are the leading patent assignees with more than 50 patents filed / granted.

Future Market Outlook:

As stakeholders recognize a positive return on investment (ROI) with a higher benefit-cost ratio, exoskeleton adoption is expected to expand across diverse industries, shaping the global market’s trajectory. Nevertheless, challenges persist, notably in securing insurance coverage and reimbursement from third-party payors, leading to cautious adoption by healthcare providers. Despite the challenges, our projections indicate that the global exoskeleton market will reach approximately USD 15 billion by 2035. The developmental timeline of exoskeletons traces back to the 1960s, with a climax in the 2000s garnering international attention and contributions from countries such as the US, Japan, Israel, France, Switzerland, South Korea, and China. Notable models, such as BLEEX, HAL-5, and ReWalk, were designed for various purposes, including military, civilian, and medical applications. The acceleration of exoskeleton technology continued in the 21st century as newer and more affordable motors and micro-controllers became available. Symbolic moments, such as the paraplegic man’s kickoff at the 2014 World Cup and the mind-controlled exoskeleton enabling limb movement in 2019, underscored the transformative potential of exoskeletons. The market continues to gain momentum in 2024, with models targeting a broader client base. Looking ahead, future exoskeletons are expected to be slimmer, smarter, more connected and cheaper ushering in a new era of wearable technology.

For detailed insights about this domain, check out our report on medical exoskeleton market.