Fourier strengthens the hand of exoskeleton developers with new open platform
Fourier Intelligence unveiled its next-generation rehabilitation exoskeleton to much fanfare in Shanghai yesterday.
Shanghai, January 21, 2019 – Fourier Intelligence unveiled its next-generation rehabilitation exoskeleton to much fanfare in Shanghai yesterday.
The innovative company, which supplies advanced robotic devices that target upper and lower limb rehabilitation, also launched an open platform for the research and development of exoskeletons, the first of its kind in the world.
Fourier Intelligence’s EXOPS launch event
The new model, named X2, was launched at a conference held at Shanghai Kempinski Hotel, marking another step toward enriching the company's product line and realising its vision of employing robotics to aid the recovery of stroke patients and other victims of mobility impairment.
X2 is an update on the X1 model released in 2017. The use of aluminium and carbon fibre drastically reduced weight. Weighing 18 kilograms, X2 is 35 per cent lighter than X1, making it more user-friendly.
A bigger highlight of the conference centred on the launch of the Fourier Exoskeleton & Robotics Open Platform System, or EXOPS for short.
"We invite college researchers, students and developers to join us in developing future-generation exoskeleton technology based on this Android-like open platform," said Alex Gu, founder and chief executive of Fourier Intelligence.
Alex Gu, founder and chief executive of Fourier Intelligence
He added that the basic idea behind EXOPS is that "researchers don't have to reinvent the wheel by building exoskeletons from the ground up."
EXOPS will not only save researcher money and energy but also speed up the application of exoskeleton research, resulting in a series of user-defined scenarios including but not restricted to rehabilitation.
Currently, many university robotics labs have to buy expensive equipment from established suppliers, whose costs normally range between $100,000 and $150,000.
It has been Fourier's mission statement from the very outset to "make exoskeletons widely affordable to the largest number of populations," said Gu.
He revealed that compared to the standard prices of exoskeletons in the market, Fourier's X2 is a third as expensive.
More importantly, a central feature of EXOPS is that it allows control access to the robot by research users, apart from enabling additions to sensors and integration of modular modifications with the original design.
None of the buzzes built around exoskeletons is, in fact, new in the eyes of Zen Koh, Chief Strategy Officer of Fourier. He dismissed the notion that exoskeletons are recent inventions; instead, they dated back for years, he said.
Zen Koh, Chief Strategy Officer of Fourier
Some of the biggest reasons they have yet to become more visible in our daily life have to do with the efficient and meaningful application and its high prices. Likewise, lab researchers also struggle with the financial costs of building and buying exoskeleton for research purposes.
Products from companies like Fourier will tremendously bring down the costs, and with further technological upgrades, an increase of database and sound supply chain management, "the dream is to create a future where buying an exoskeleton may one day be as easy as buying an iPhone or Android handset," said Koh.
One of the main motivations for the company to open its platform to all is that it will potentially support the advancement of other fields, that required exoskeletons, such as service, industry, military and personal uses. Results achieved in these areas are often transferable, said Koh.
"If we do this all on our own, it takes a long time," said Koh. "Being open is the key to pooling our resources for the greater good."
Wil Qiao, National Instruments' Greater China sales director, also got onstage to announce NI's involvement in EXOPS in the form of contributing hardware and software.
"NI has been supporting tech startups for a while," said Qiao. "The collaboration with Fourier is just another example of its commitment to sustaining innovation."
Wil Qiao, National Instruments' Greater China sales director
Denny Oetomo, Associate Professor and Deputy Head at University of Melbourne's Department of Mechanical Engineering, said it had been hard to cull good, reliable data from traditional rehab processes, but Fourier's products prove that they are capable of generating "an unprecedentedly large amount of quality data" for medical and clinical applications.
Denny Oetomo, Associate Professor and Deputy Head at University of Melbourne
In an interview, Oetomo said it was the technological literacy and capacity of the passionate Fourier team that led him and his colleagues at the University of Melbourne to set up in July 2018 a joint robotics research laboratory partnered with Fourier and now participate in EXOPS.
Rather than spending millions of dollars building exoskeletons that never reach mass production, from now on exoskeleton researchers and developers can tap into the platform offered by Fourier and make full use of the troves of data generated.
"It's like standing on the shoulders of giants, and you can see higher," he said.