Exoskeleton technology was one of the most interesting developments in the world of robotics: instead of building machines that replace humans altogether, you build hardware that humans can wear to improve their skills. Today, German Bionic, one of the startups that develops exoskeletons specifically for industrial and physical applications, describes its Cray X robot as "the world's first networked exoskeleton for industrial use", that is, to help people lift and work with heavy objects More performance, precision and security – announces a financing round that underscores the upcoming opportunity.
The Augsburg-based company has raised US $ 20 million and has thus provided funds that it plans to use to further expand its business and technology, both in terms of hardware and in relation to the cloud-based software platform German Bionic IO work with the exoskeletons to optimize them and help them work better.
The Cray X can currently compensate for up to 30 kg for each lifting movement, according to the company.
“With our breakthrough robotic technology, which combines human work with the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), we are literally empowering workers in an immediate and sustainable way. Measurable data underline that this ultimately increases productivity and the efficiency of the work done, ”says Armin G. Schmidt, CEO of German Bionic, in a statement. "The market for intelligent human-machine systems is huge and we are now perfectly positioned to take a large share and significantly improve many working lives."
Series A is jointly run by Samsung Catalyst Fund, a strategic investment arm of the hardware giant, and German investor MIG AG, one of the original backers of BioNtech, the pioneering company that developed the first Covid-19 vaccine worldwide.
Storm Ventures, Benhamou Global Ventures (founded and led by Eric Benhamou, founding CEO of Palm and previously CEO of 3com) and IT Farm also attended. Previously, German Bionic had raised just 3.5 million US dollars in start-up capital (with the participation of IT Farm, Atlantic Labs and individual investors).
The rise of German Bionic comes at an interesting time in terms of how automation and cloud technology are entering the world of work. When talking about the next generation of industrial work, the focus is usually on more automation and the rise of robots to replace people at different stages of production.
At the same time, some robot technologists were working on another idea. Since we are probably still a long way from making robots that are like humans but better in terms of cognition and all movement, instead create hardware that does not replace but augment living workers to make them stronger and at the same time in able to retain the reliable and finely tuned expertise of these people.
The case for more automation in industrial environments has recently become more urgent with the outbreak of the global Covid-19 health pandemic: factories have been one of the focal points for outbreaks and the tendency has been to reduce physical contact and proximity to the Reduce the spread of the virus.
Exoskeletons don't really address this aspect of Covid-19 – even if you may need less of them due to the use of exoskeletons, you still need people to wear them – but the general focus that automation had brought more attention to it the ability to use them.
And even if we put the pandemic aside, we are definitely still a long way from having inexpensive robots that completely replace humans in all situations. So if we roll out vaccinations and develop a better understanding of how the virus works, it will still mean a strong market for the exoskeleton concept, which analysts (cited by German Bionic) are forecasting to reach as high as 20 by 2030 Could have billions of dollars.
In this context, it is interesting to see Samsung as an investor: The company itself, as one of the world's leading providers of consumer electronics and industrial electronics, is an independent production power plant. But it also makes equipment for others to use in their industrial work, both as a direct brand and through subsidiaries like Harman. It is not clear which of these use cases Samsung is interested in: whether the Cray X should be used in its own production and logistics work or whether it should become a strategic partner in the production of these for others. It could easily be both.
"We are pleased to support German Bionic in the further development of the world's leading exoskeleton technology," said Young Sohn, corporate president and chief strategy officer of Samsung Electronics and CEO Harman, in a statement. “Exoskeleton technologies hold great promise for improving human health, well-being and productivity. We believe it can be a transformative technology with mass market potential. "
German Bionic describes its Cray X as a “self-learning power suit” that is primarily aimed at increasing the lifting movements and protecting the wearer from bad calls that can lead to injuries. This can apply to factories as well as warehouses, or even retailer mechanics who work in your local garage. The company does not publish a list of customers, except that it includes in the words of a spokesman: “a large logistics companies, industrial producers and infrastructure centers. “One of them, Stuttgart Airport, is highlighted on its website.
“In the past, efficiency gains and health promotion in manual labor often contradicted each other. German Bionic Systems has not only managed to break through this paradigm, but also to make manual work a part of the digital transformation and to integrate it elegantly into the Smart Factory, ”says Michael Motschmann, Managing Partner of MIG, in a statement. "We see immense potential in the company and are particularly pleased to work with a first-class team of experienced entrepreneurs and engineers."
Exoskeletons as a concept have been around for over a decade – MIT developed its first exoskeleton back in 2007 to help soldiers carry heavy loads. However, advances in cloud computing, smaller processors for the hardware itself, and artificial intelligence have really opened up the idea of where and how these could benefit humans. Aside from industry, other uses have also included helping people with knee injuries (or preventing knee injuries!) In skiing and for medical purposes, although the recent pandemic has weighed on some of these use cases leading to indefinite production breaks.