With the second largest living population being the baby boomer generation, healthcare costs are increasing in recent years globally and will continue to grow as they age. Luckily, there are companies using technology find ways to lower those costs, in the form of rehabilitation robotics. You’ve probably seen YouTube videos of paralyzed people being able to take their first steps in years thanks to the help of a robotic exoskeleton, but there are many forms of rehabilitation robotics that seek to assist those in need of medical care.
There is an array of companies from all over the world dedicating a portion of their research and development to rehabilitation robotics and assistive technologies. Some of the more promising players include Accuray Incorporated, Alter G Inc., Biolink Laboratories Corp, DIH Technologies Corporation, Ekso Bionics, Intuitive Surgical Inc., Instead Technology Ltd., Mazor Robotics, Reha-Stim Medtec GmbH & Co. KG, and Vincent Medical. The global robotic rehabilitation market is estimated to expand at a CAGR of 13.1% from 2017 to 2025. If the market does in fact continue to grow at this rate, it’s 2016 value of $765.1 million will balloon to over $2 billion by 2025.
Another recently big player in the rehabilitation robotics game is Curexo, a maker of surgical robots of South Korea, which acquired Hyundai Heavy Industries’ medical robotics business in 2017. Curexo spent $9.7 million on the deal, and expects to lead the local medical robotics market by adding robots for rehabilitation, patient care, and various other purposes to its current lineup of surgical robots. The company’s current line of medical robotics includes robots for walking training, patient-handling, endovascular therapy, and orthopedic surgery. Since acquiring Hyundai’s medical robotics division, shares in Curexo have been trading higher on average than previously as they seek to attain their rightful status as an influential global leader driving growth in the Asian economy.
As our aging population continues to increase, these new rehabilitation robotics will continue to develop and eventually lower the cost of senior care. Ranging in care from specified exoskeletons and walking assistance robotics, to personal companions and partner exercise robots for stroke victims – the possibilities for elder care with the help of robotics are endless. Researchers in Israel conducted a study developing an interactive movement protocol for stroke victims that fits and individual’s preferences, with the potential to make physical therapy more customized and effective. The study used a “mirror game” typically found in improvisational theater in which an individual mimics the movement of a robot or vice versa. They found that the robot’s behavior “primes” the human movement and they mimicked the robots’ behavior. Researchers were able to tailor the robotic movement to each individual, similar to how we use personalized medicine. From here, companies will be able to develop programming to personalize the approach of these rehabilitation robotics to stroke victims, or those in need of physical therapy.
In the past, we’ve relied on medical professionals to care for our elderly and infirmed population – and while they have treated those in need so well, with the growing rate of our aging population we seek to fill the needs more efficiently in the future. The average cost of physical therapy is somewhere around $100 per session – with most people needing a bare minimum of one session per week. That’s going to run you around $5200 per year for just the minimum physical therapy needed for an older individual – not including additional doctor visits. For our elderly population with an often fixed income, this can get expensive very quickly and will only continue to add up as their health continues to decline with age. In the future as these rehabilitation robotics continue to develop and expand their capabilities, the price will come down and likely end up costing less than the comparable amount of physical therapy. Of course, you would still need to visit a doctor to monitor your progress (for now), but imagine the minimal cost compared to paying each week for these services.
An additional benefit these rehabilitation robots could provide to those in need is the ability to do their own physical therapy without having to leave the house. Many people requiring physical therapy and among the elderly population have difficulties getting around especially when it involves driving. The MOTORE ++ robot is in experimental trials for upper limb rehabilitation from your own home. Previous MOTORE models have worked well in hospital and physical therapy environments, but this new model would be ideal for retirement homes or in-home therapy. Bringing the rehabilitation robotics into the home would be a great development for medical robotics and help justify the initial investment costs and lower overall healthcare costs.
With the optimistic outlook for the rehabilitation robotics industry in the coming years, you may be wondering how you can get involved in the rapidly expanding market. At this point you can still get into the rehabilitation robotics game – many companies are publically traded and you can join the scores of other smart investors benefitting from its growth. Ekso Bionics manufactures rehabilitation exoskeletons for stroke and spinal cord injury patients and are publically traded on the NASDAQ. Ekso has a rolling annual return of +264.8% and looks to be a promising investment as they continue to grow and develop.
When it comes to rehabilitation robotics, the future looks bright as companies continue to aggressively research and develop new technologies. Investors looking to get into the robotics game would be wise to put some of their money into this growing segment of robotics. The need for these services will only continue to expand as our aging population continues to grow and we seek to find a suitable replacement for constant medical attention.