November 05, 2014      

Russ Angold, co-founder of RBR50 company and exoskeleton maker Ekso Bionics, lives by the motto “learn by doing, and sometimes learn by redoing.” One thing he learned early on in his journey into the exoskeleton market is that you can’t do everything yourself. That’s one of the driving forces behind Ekso’s new licensing agreement with Ottobock, the global leader in prosthetics. Ekso will license two patents to Ottobock to “accelerate the pace of innovation in the field of prosthetics to provide the next generation of assistive mobility options.” Angold didn’t divulge financial details, but Ekso will receive a combination of license and royalty payments as part of the ongoing contract. “We’re still a small company,” Angold says. “And there are many applications for our technology. In order to move fast, we’re looking to partner with leading companies.” Ottobock will use Ekso’s technology to further its innovation in the field of microprocessor-controlled prosthetic knees, Angold says. “We’ll be working with them on that process,” Angold says. “It should kickoff in the next few months.” Angold says the technology Ekso is licensing to Ottobock involves one electric motor that can actuate two joints at once to “power a knee and ankle all with one motor.” Ekso’s name won’t be on the new product from Ottobock, but that’s not an issue, Angold says. “We knew early on that we can’t do everything, so let’s find other partners who can get it to the people who need it,” Angold says. “We’ll learn from [Ottobock], obviously, but it’s all about getting the technology out there.” That’s been the mission all along for Ekso, which raised $20.6 million during its public offering in January 2014. Angold was inspired by a personal tragedy. His brother, a Navy SEAL, broke his neck (C6-C7 spinal cord injury) in an accident and lost all of his upper arm strength. “We’ve been talking with Ottobock for years,” Angold says. “Back in the early days (2005-06) we developed prosthetics and were looking for partners, trying to figure out what makes sense. We were in the early stages of the technology, but [the companies] have kept in touch and kept each other abreast of what we’re both working on. The timing was just right now.” This should be a solid partnership for Ekso, to say the least. Ottobock is the world’s largest manufacturer of prosthetic components, making 60 percent of prosthetic limbs across the globe, with annual revenues over a billion dollars. Ottobock, based in Germany, has been a family-managed company since its founding in 1919, but the firm has subsidiaries in fifty countries worldwide and employs over 8,000 people. “We’ve been intrigued by Ekso Bionics’ technology for many years, and are excited to start a formal relationship with their ground-breaking company,” Hans Dietl, Ottobock’s chief technology officer, says in a statement. “We look forward to leveraging our respective technologies together with an eye on improving our users’ quality of life for years to come.”

Another Licensing Deal for Ekso

This isn’t Ekso’s first rodeo when it comes to licensing agreements. In January 2009, Ekso formed a similar deal with Lockheed Martin, the world’s largest defense contractor, to develop its Human Universal Load Carrier (HULC) system for military use. The deal turned out to be quite lucrative. According to Ekso’s 2013 annual filing with the U.S. Security and Exchange Commission (SEC), Lockheed paid more than $6 million in licensing fees for HULC between 2009-2013, which is about $1.2M per year. According to Seeking Alpha, Ekso makes a 4-6 percent royalty from Lockheed Martin, who will also cover costs of development through 2017. Lockheed evolved HULC into a variation of exoskeletons, including the iHAS, MANTIS and now the FORTIS, which Lockheed says is lightweight, moves naturally with the body, and allows users to lift objects up to 36 pounds effortlessly via the Equipois-manufactured zeroG arm. The U.S. Navy recently signed a contract to test two FORTIS exoskeletons on ship maintenance crews. A recent study from WinterGreen Research estimates the rehabilitation robot market, which includes rehab/therapy robots, active prostheses, exoskeletons and wearable robotics, will grow from $43.3 million to $1.8 billion by 2020.

Ekso Receives NIH Grant to Develop a Children’s Exoskeleton

In other Ekso news, the company was awarded a P20 Exploratory Grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to continue the development of an exoskeleton prototype for children. The work will be done in collaboration with the Department of Pediatric Rehabilitation at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland and will consist of Ekso developing a pediatric version of its Ekso GT robotic exoskeleton. The suit design and function will be made in collaboration with Christine Aguilar, MD, medical director of pediatric rehabilitation medicine, and Robert Haining, MD, associate director of rehabilitation medicine of UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland, for children aged 5 years (approximately 42 inches tall and 40 pounds) to about 8 years old (approximately 50 inches tall and 56 pounds) with neurologic disorders that result in gait deficiencies such as spinal cord injury, stroke, traumatic brain injury and cerebral palsy. “This NIH grant and partnership with UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland gives us the real opportunity to intervene early in a child’s life and potentially help them improve their walking skills and overall quality of life,” says Katie Strausser, PhD, director of research at Ekso Bionics.

Healthcare Robotics 2014 Research Report

Healthcare in the U.S. is approaching $4 trillion annually. To support, enhance, and mitigate the healthcare burdens, our healthcare system is witnessing robotic medical technology entering hospital surgical suites, in-patient rooms, in-home patient care, and uses with emergency services and vehicles. Robotics Business Review’s special report “Healthcare Robotics 2014” analyzes new developments, trends, challenges and opportunities in the medical robotics sector. The report profiles leading healthcare robotics companies, features exclusive Q&As with leading executives, discusses the impact of the Affordable Care Act, and examines surgical robotics, robotic replacement for diminished or lost function, exoskeletons, robot-assisted recovery and rehabilitation, and personalized care for the elderly. There are two ways to access the research report: 1. Sign up for an Annual Premium Membership for access to all Robotics Business Review research reports. If you’re already a Premium Member, log in and the report will appear on this page. 2. All research reports are sold individually on the Robotics Business Review Store for $299 each.