‘Powered Clothing’ Is the Goal of Superflex Exoskeleton Funding

In the News
December 20, 2016

Superflex today said that it has raised $9.6 million for the first round of investment in its “powered clothing.”

The Menlo Park, Calif.-based company is a spinoff of SRI International, which developed wearable robotics to help soldiers carry heavy loads with funding from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

Superflex’s wearable technology is being positioned for the consumer market rather than military use.

“We’re just coming out of stealth mode,” said Rich Mahoney, CEO of Superflex. “We want to be part of the discussion around powered clothing and wearable, assistive technology.”

“Our goals don’t have a full schedule, but we want to help people understand that there’s different way to look at the world,” he told Robotics Business Review.

Business Takeaways:

  • Superflex, which spun out of SRI International, has received Series A funding that it intends to use to expand its operations, work with manufacturing partners, and conduct testing on a commercial product.
  • Unlike most exoskeletons, which are being positioned for the rehabilitation market, Superflex is designing “powered clothing” with aging consumers in mind.
  • Powered clothing could help not only Baby Boomers, but also those with mobility limitations or who need performance apparel.

A background in rehab

“I worked for seven and a half years at SRI, and before that in the stroke rehabilitation market,” Mahoney said. “That experience is part of what guided this strategy. I understand the challenges for rehab devices.”

The global markets for personal exoskeletons and other wearables have grown more slowly than initially expected, partly because of the high cost and awkwardness of early assistive devices. Still, Grand View Research predicts that it will grow to $3.3 billion to 2025.

In addition, health insurers have been slow to agree to reimbursements for exoskeletons.

“There are lots of really good devices out there providing benefit, but they’re stuck in large rehab centers,” Mahoney told Robotics Business Review. “They’re used at the acute or subacute stage, right after people have injuries, but they never really get into the home.”

“I saw technology developed at SRI that was more lightweight and integrated into clothing,” he said. “I wanted to start with consumers and flip it around and create benefit for them.”

“Over time, I suspect we’ll be pulled into rehabilitation environment as well,” Mahoney said.

Designing for comfort, cost

Superflex is now working to commercialize its powered clothing, with an initial focus on assisting aging consumers in Japan and the U.S.

“We found out a couple of things in our transition from SRI’s robotics lab,” said Mahoney. “We’ll use the seed funding to transition our technology, to create something that is valuable, responsive to market needs.”

“Instead of positioning ourselves as a healthcare robotics or exoskeleton company, we’re positioning ourselves as an apparel company with...

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