Roam’s founder and CEO is Tim Swift, a longtime veteran of Ekso Bionics, one of the world’s leaders in exoskeletons. Swift loved what Ekso was building, but balked at the hefty price tag that came with systems designed to help the disabled walk. Building devices that aren’t accessible to the masses didn’t make sense to him anymore. So he struck out on his own, aiming to democratize exoskeletons.
Roam is using plastics and fabrics, and air for transmission. The company’s core insight, Swift says, is a unique fabric actuator that’s very lightweight, yet strong for its volume and weight. The system relies on valves and a backpack power pack to provide torque to the legs. It also has a machine learning element that’s meant to understand how you ski, and anticipate when you’re going to make a turn in order to deliver the extra torque just when you want it.
When ready for market, the skiing exoskeleton is expected to weigh under 10 pounds, including about four or five pounds of equipment that goes in the backpack.
The company claims the exoskeleton will make older skiers feel years younger and able to stay out on the slope for longer. And for athletes, the device will supposedly help them train for days in a row with less fatigue.
So far the company has only built prototypes, but it’s in the process of finalizing a commercial product, set for release in January 2019. Interested skiers can pay $99 to reserve a unit, although the final price is expected to be somewhere between $2,000 and $2,500.
Exoskeletons have a few of clear use cases: people with disabilities, heavy lifting workers, and supersoldiers. Athletes and healthy people that want to enjoy sports in their later years are interesting new possibilities.