When it comes to breakthroughs in the fast-moving robotics field, the mainstream media is once again bringing up the rear.
Last week, the major news outlets were abuzz with details about how two patients paralyzed from the neck down used their minds to control robots.
No doubt, this is a worthy breakthrough. On the other hand…
I first wrote about a similar case back in early January, four months before the New York Times got onto the story. That’s when my report on how the tech sector delivers life-changing gains ran on our sister website, Money Morning.
In fact, I got so much great feedback on that and other stories like it, I decided to launch the Era of Radical Change.
I mention this not to brag, but to remind you that by subscribing, you really will learn about key trends in cutting-edge tech long before the general public.
And that’s clearly true when it comes to robots. Just two weeks ago I wrote to tell you how a new series of smart machines will have a profound impact on the world around us.
Here’s what I said:
“Robots of all sizes are already capable of doing some very complex tasks: They can perform surgery, hair transplants, and even climb inside the human body – through the mouth – to “eat” stomach cancers.”
You may recall that I also told you to keep an eye on Heartland Robotics, a startup based in Boston that I believe is a good IPO candidate. The firm says it will produce a range of machines that will serve as “the PC” of robots.
Today, I’d like to tell you about another startup that’s pushing the boundaries of the robotics revolution.
It’s Ekso Bionics, and it offers new hope to more than 125,000 people in the U.S. alone who are paraplegics, meaning they are paralyzed from the waist down.
Ekso boasts some truly great tech. Simply stated, the firm makes wearable robot suits. These are battery-powered bionic devices that strap right over the user’s clothes.
Not only that, they employ sensors and motors that allow patients to walk safely and avoid falling. Ekso says it designed the torso and leg straps to make it easy for patients to get in and out on their own.
The patient doesn’t bear the weight, however, because the device transfers its 45 pounds of load straight to the ground. Each “Ekso” can be fitted in a few minutes for most people who weigh 220 pounds or less and who stand between 5’2″ and 6’2″.
Ekso’s name derives from the fact that many creatures — think crabs and lobsters — “wear” their skeletons on the outside.
Turning a Profit on the Tech
There’s another reason why Ekso’s approach is crucial. Recent press reports about patients moving robot arms with their thoughts left out one key detail investors should know — it will take at least several years for these products to come to market.
Not that I don’t like to see high-tech help the people who need it most. But in the long run, if firms can’t turn a profit on their products then they will have a very limited impact on the world before going bust.
So, I’m happy to report that Ekso is already gearing up for major sales. It delivered its device back in February and plans to go global soon.
Just last week, it got the green light to sell in 30 European countries. The company says it has since received an undisclosed number of overseas orders. It expects shipments to begin in a matter of weeks.
Ekso plans to focus on rehab centers. I see this as a savvy move. These centers have the money to back the devices and the staff needed to train patients. So far, Ekso has signed 13 such outlets in the U.S. and one in Italy.
Meantime, Ekso has eight patients who use the suits and have agreed to tell their stories to the public. Their names, photos and profiles appear on the firm’s website under the heading “Test Pilots.”
Positioning to Go Public
From its founding in 2005, Ekso has demonstrated a focus on cash flow. Ekso began with funding from a research arm of the Pentagon, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). It also worked with UC Berkeley and struck a licensing deal with defense firm Lockheed Martin Corp. (NYSE:LMT)
In late 2010, it brought in a heavy hitter as CEO. He is Eythor Bender, and he has 17 years in the bionics field. More to the point, he took a company that make artificial legs public, and before that worked at Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE:HPQ)
Of course, Ekso hasn’t said it intends to go public. But it’s making all the right moves to do so.
Let me close by noting that Ekso’s work defines the Era of Radical Change. We’ve never had a period with so many breakthroughs that will alter our world.
And once again, the U.S. remains the clear leader. We have so many bright minds working on tough problems that America can’t help but succeed in the long run.
Along the way, we will see people’s lives change in profound ways. Like getting paraplegics back on their feet again.