Tens of millions of elderly and disabled people could benefit by wearing effective soft or hard exoskeletons that help them walk and monitor and provide therapy for medical conditions. Wearable external and implanted automatic defibrillators are currently only prescribed for people with a very high risk of heart attacks.
Mini-strokes might be a cause of Alzheimers brain damage and are often not detected or diagnosed. Highly precise perpetual medical sensors would be helpful in improving diagnosis and treatment.
Exoskeletons are being deployed in factories to shift the weight of tools from workers so that they do not get injured or tired. There are hundreds of millions of jobs worldwide that involve heavy lifting or moving heavy objects. Nursing requires the movement of heavy patients, factory workers and transportation workers often require the movement of heavy objects.
Millions of people have wearable wrist and other devices now for monitoring sports and exercise activity and provide dynamic coaching and fitness training. The wearable device market is expected to top 19 million units this year and could be hundreds of millions by 2020.
The military, workers, elderly and disabled markets should develop to tens to hundreds of millions of soft exoskeletons and very complete and highly functional smart wearables in the thousand to tens of thousands of dollar price range.
Having wearables and soft exoskeletons reach the level of adoption of cellphones and smartphones will require a broad range of form factors and prices in the low hundreds of dollars and eventually a premium of 10-30% over regular clothing.
Wearable soft sensors for monitoring health
Such an elastic technology could make possible robots that have sensory skin, stretchable robotic garments that people might wear for added strength and endurance, “g-suits” for pilots or astronauts to counteract the effects of acceleration, and lightweight, versatile robots to roam alien landscapes during space missions.
The robotic fabric is a cotton material containing sensors made of a flexible polymer and threadlike strands of a shape-memory alloy that return to a coiled shape when heated, causing the fabric to move.
Orienting the robotic fabric in two different directions causes a block of foam to either bend or compress, a principle that could be used to create robots that inch forward or slither. (Purdue University photo/Rebecca Kramer)