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Verve Motion raises $20M for soft exoskeletons

Long the stuff of science fiction, robotic exoskeletons supporting enhanced human strength and endurance are fast maturing into commercial realities. This week saw key developers in the space nab over $36 million in fresh funding, underscoring rising confidence in the industry’s potential to transform sectors from healthcare to manufacturing.

The flurry of investments targets different exoskeleton models tailored for industrial or medical settings. Verve Motion raised $20 million to scale a “soft exosuit” worn like a backpack that provides lifting support to factory and warehouse workers. Rival German Bionic topped up its Series A to over $16 million to expand industrial exoskeleton production via a manufacturing partner.

These industrial exoskeletons underscore investor enthusiasm around boosting workplace productivity and safety. Verve says its SafeLift suit cuts injury rates by 85% while increasing lifting capacity and typical user productivity by up to 7%. Such benefits in injury-prone settings like warehouses can yield hard ROI through lower insurance premiums, fewer missed days, and rising output. Bullish partners include major grocers Albertsons and Wegmans piloting thousands of suits.

Yet most public attention focuses on medical exoskeleton models restoring mobility to those requiring rehabilitation or living with paralysis. Ekso Bionics this week moved closer to securing key FDA clearances for insurance coverage of its offering. This could prove a watershed moment accelerating adoption following years of painstaking advocacy efforts.

Success across both domains results from converging trends enabling more dexterous, compact, and intelligent exoskeletons. Ubiquitous sensing, smarter algorithms, and falling costs now allow relatively sleek, responsive robotic assistants cooperating seamlessly with users. Cloud connectivity additionally enables insights into usage, performance, and risk patterns augmenting safety and capabilities over time.

To be sure, exoskeletons still face hurdles slowing mainstream adoption. Price tags stretching well into five figures remain barriers for many buyers lacking generous insurance or operational budgets. Ergonomic and reliability kinks also persist around truly seamless human-machine collaboration in complex situations. And cultural inertia resisting cyborg-like enhancement threatens pockets of pushback.

Yet the overall trajectory seems brightly positive as technology maturity, clinical validation, and shifting attitudes overcome residual obstacles. We see glimpses of the immense promise in rising rehabilitation rates, plummeting workplace injury figures, and effusive user testimonials regarding life-changing impacts.

In the end, the greatest barrier may be conceptual - escaping narrow notions of exoskeletons as primarily corrective technologies for subsets of patients or workers. Their cumulative effect could profoundly augment human capacity and resilience across society in decades to come. Whether preventing dementia through lifelong neural stimulation or allowing aging populations to stay productive via boosted strength and cognition, human-machine convergence promises a richer future secured by this week’s investment windfalls.

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