Exoskeletal Skiing Comes of Age — Roam Robotics


Post by WildSnow.com blogger | January 30, 2019      
Ready for bionic skiing.

Ready for bionic skiing with the Roam powered exoskeleton.

Lisa and I have been at a press even the last few days. The usual stuff. Ski the latest DPS and Dynafit skis (and yes Virginia, Hoji Free beef boot launched), check out Sweet Protection’s helmets, ski at the sweet little Eldora ski resort out of Boulder, Colorado. And watch people strap into the Roam exoskeleton to become Iron Men, and Women, of the slopes.

Roam was founded by its CEO Tim Swift. As a veteran of the robotics and exoskeleton arena, he saw the limits of the heavy, incredibly expensive metallic exoskeletons most developers were experimenting with. So he founded Roam to develop a “lightweight, low cost machine, made from fabric and plastics.” Result, a variety of commercialized exoskeleton products. Focus for us, a Roam machine specific for skiing, the Elevate, that’s now launched and ready for rental.

The Elevate device “offloads up to 30% of the user’s body weight.” In other words, effort from your leg muscles and pressure on your knees is transferred to the device’s hinge and motors (and subsequently to your skeletal structure and boot soles).

In appearance, Elevate is what you’d expect: a somewhat bulky contraption that resembles a high-end knee brace. The secret sauce is in the actuators that apply power to the skeleton. Instead of gears and pistons (fictional or real), Roam uses elegantly designed compressed air motors made from textiles and plastic. This rig is no toy, but in the words of Swift, “We use manufacturing processes common to the toy industry, so we can keep costs down.”

Power comes from a battery powered portable compressor you carry on your back. Everything is remarkably compact and lightweight, designed for the least “Avengers” look possible. Nonetheless, the twelve pound compressor backpack is perhaps too heavy for less robust or elderly skiers (especially those with back problems) — and those are clearly the demographics for the Elevate market. Swift says the entire system is in a constant state of revision, with goals being “less weight and sleeker appearance.”

Speaking of markets, we were told that while the Elevate device is strictly for downhill skiing, Roam’s products for hiking and running could likely lead to something for uphill skiing, though nobody denied the weight of the system would need to be greatly reduced for actual backcountry use.

Our take? We see a robust rental market for the Elevate we tested, though we feel it needs a few more design iterations before you’ll want to buy one. As for philosophy, look at it like a pedallic E-bike. Elevate does not ski for you, but instead it skis with you, to keep you on the slopes as life progresses.

Below, Lisa’s testing experience:

After decades of backcountry skiing and trail running, my knees have deteriorated to squeaky, bone-on-bone hinges. The orthopod encourages me to get a double knee replacement. Fearful of the knife, I’m putting it off as long as possible. I gulp Advil to mask the pain, or sometimes I’ll stay home instead of wincing down the slopes. I fantasize about strapping on an exoskeleton and gliding down a peak as nimble as a chamois.

Roam Robotics brought my dream closer to reality. During a press event at Eldora Ski area here in Colorado, I had an opportunity to try Roam’s robotic ski leg support, the Elevate. The plan was to strap the robotic frame to each of my legs and go skiing.

Roam Elevate attached and ready.

Roam Elevate attached and ready.

My appointment for the test run was late afternoon. As preparation, I did not take any pain relievers for 48 hours prior. My morning was free so I skinned up the ski area. On the first turns down the slope, pain shot thru my legs like a dentist hitting a nerve. I gingerly made wide zorro turns and slowly got down to the lodge where I hung out until my meeting with Roam.

At 3:00, Roam techs fitted the contraptions to my legs. We rode the chairlift up the slope and got ready to launch down. I slowly made a turn, then another and another, each faster and more fluid. I kid you not: no pain at all. By the end of the run, I was making the carefree turns of my youth.

Skiing with the Elevate exosketelon was curiously subtle. Other than eliminating my knee pain, it didn’t seem like the robotic supports were doing anything drastic. I heard the air compressor powering up and releasing the brace as I went in and out of turns but it didn’t feel like I was getting thrown around by it. There was merely a lightened load on my knees and legs, like the gravitational pull wasn’t so strong.

Halfway down the run, I turned off the device and skied a few turns. My knees screamed with pain. I turned the device back on and my knees stopped crying. I wasn’t dreaming, the exoskeleton was indeed helping me.

As with any new invention, there’s room for improvement and the engineers at Roam Robotics are continually perfecting the apparatus. Roam Robotics will have a limited amount of rentals available at a few locations in the US. Check out their website for details.

I’m excited to see Elevate evolve and hope Roam Robotics is successful with bringing it to market. The ability to ski with an exoskeleton like the Elevate would allow me to postpone my knee replacements, maybe forever. And when they perfect the cliff jumping code in the algo, who knows, Lou might have to buy a different camera.



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Comments

31 Responses to “Exoskeletal Skiing Comes of Age — Roam Robotics”

  1. Brian January 30th, 2019 6:53 am

    How does this compare to the device from skimojo.com? It looks like they use a spring type shock absorbing suspension system.

  2. Lou Dawson 2 January 30th, 2019 7:33 am

    Brian, Elevate uses a computer controlled compressed air power source, it has huge potential as the algo can be tuned to do all sorts of cool stuff that adapts to what the skier is doing. Not only that but it’s actually an external power source that adds to your muscle strength. Way different. That said, for basic turn-right turn-left skiing, a device like SkiMojo probably has a place, but a powered system is probably the future. Downside, like I wrote, the battery-compressor pack is bulky and heavy. As with about a zillion other innovations, when the batteries get significantly lighter, look out world. Lou

  3. Lou Dawson 2 January 30th, 2019 7:44 am

    P.S., where SkiMojo intrigues me is if it could be made ultra-light, then used for the downhill portion of ski tours, especially multi-day tours with a heavy backpack. That could be a game changer for everything from the Haute route to Denali. Lou

  4. Greg January 30th, 2019 9:54 am

    Wow. These people are lazy!, Part of the earn your turn experience is just that ” earn it”! Challenge yourself, get exercise, and feel you deserve those fresh lines. Must be millennial made. Just as the tradesmen are on the way out, so is dedication for a cause these days. I will laugh at any physically capable person using this. I suppose it has a smart phone attachment so you can keep up with Facebook and tinder. Pitiful..

  5. Scott S Allen January 30th, 2019 10:22 am

    Greg, I must respectfully disagree. I work in public schools where students with special needs are great assisted by technology. Every phase of life provides challenges and one of the amazing things about living at this time in history is seeing advances in technology bring joy to peoples lives.

    It’s not for everyone, but this Elevate assistive technology can bring a quality of life to individuals with special mobility needs…something we all can appreciate at some age in our lives.

  6. Luke January 30th, 2019 11:23 am

    Greg, I also have to take issue with your comment. The article above details specifically that this device is not intended for any assist on the up, but rather help for people who love skiing and have a condition that is making it more difficult to participate. Specifically Lisa writes about her knee pain going away during her day. Since every year my knees get more and more painful, I read eagerly. And I doubt anyone would accuse the Dawsons of being lazy. I’m excited about anything that will let me enjoy the outdoors longer or let more people take advantage of the beauty around them.

  7. Shane January 30th, 2019 11:59 am

    Yeah Greg, as another long time turn-earner with a fair bit of missing knee cartilage, well, let’s just say Lou wouldn’t appreciate my initial response to your comment.

  8. swissiphic January 30th, 2019 12:58 pm

    Having gone through vitality swings due to a long term health condition, I for one look forward to the adaptation of this tech for uphill assist as well. If technology could help those of us with physical limitations keep doing what we love instead of dealing with the extreme dismay, distress and disappointment of the temporary prison sentence of a mandatory sedentarianism, I say bring it on. It’ll at least offer a good backstop/hedge.

  9. Crazy Horse January 30th, 2019 6:00 pm

    Lisa, you are in good company. At the athletic club I frequent 50% of the clientele are over 65 skiers rehabing from knee replacements. One friend in particular is skiing on his Stockli race skis 90 days after being unable to walk after his surgery.

    Is this device approved for World Cup ski racing? As I watch Marchel Hircher ski I swear he already is using a more highly refined and streamlined version with custom Austrian designed software.

    News Flash:

    American Ski Goddess Lindsey Von wins her 150th downhill ski race in 2025 at age 45!

  10. Lou Dawson 2 January 30th, 2019 10:46 pm

    Swissphic and all, again, this system is analgous to a pedalllic e-bike. For those of you who don’t know that that is, it’s an electric bike that provides power assist as you pedal, as apposed to a “throttle” bike you can power along on while not moving your legs. Lou

  11. Mac January 31st, 2019 2:59 am

    I’m with Greg on this. Next thing you know people will be out skiing in rigid boots, locking their heel for the descent and not wearing tweed suits!

  12. Wookie1974 January 31st, 2019 9:16 am

    This is super-cool – and not because of the skiing.
    I think of my buddy who, as a paramedic, can now barely walk at 45 due to debilitating damage to his joints and back because of all the heavy lifting his (old) job entailed. It’s probably too late for him to reverse that damage – even with something like this, but perhaps future generations of paramedics, construction workers or UPS guys will wear stuff like this to help prevent that kind of long-term damage!
    If it works for something as dynamic as skiing, then I can imagine more mundane activities probably are even easier to achieve.

    This is great!

  13. Jim Milstein January 31st, 2019 10:06 am

    I’m with Mac. Bring back tweed jackets, knickers, V-neck sweaters, and ties. It is time.

    The look is good for girls too.

  14. TahoeAtlas January 31st, 2019 10:20 am

    I see this as part of the adaptive skiing toolkit, and not only for joint issues. Skiers with CP, MS, TBI, or other injuries and disabilities that affect motor control could benefit from this as well, particularly as the weight comes down.

  15. swissiphic January 31st, 2019 11:55 am

    Lou; For the uphill version; me wants variable e assist AND full throttle for those poor weather days when personal drone can’t be flown for drone drops. I ain’t no loom smasher…automatic for the people or bust.

  16. Jim Milstein January 31st, 2019 1:26 pm

    The combo of exoskeleton and knickers could look good.

  17. Shane January 31st, 2019 2:55 pm

    @Jim Milstein

    I worry about the triangular patch of wind/sunburn a V-neck sweater would allow. But, especially since you mention ties, would the ensemble include a buttoned down collared shirt?

  18. Jim Milstein January 31st, 2019 3:07 pm

    Of course it would, Shane. Don’t be crazy. Well, the buttoned down collar is optional. In fact, the collar is better without the buttons. Ask any skier.

  19. David Hackbarth January 31st, 2019 11:59 pm

    Lisa,
    Nice report on Exo! We like to see some interesting advances like this!!!
    Hey …..go ahead and have the knees done. There is NO more reason to wait.
    Sandra my wife had dual replacem ents and she skis much BETTER. I have a list of a dozen people with replacements. I am skiing in Japan now with someone who had hers done six months ago. . SEND IT!

    PS. Also combo of Tylenol and Inbup is a better option.

    DH

  20. carlos February 1st, 2019 10:44 am

    Sorry I didn’t understand if this works or is intended to work uphill..that is the real changer as it was for electric mountain bikes.
    does it work uphill?
    how much vertical could it make ?
    what is the weight?

  21. Lou Dawson 2 February 1st, 2019 11:06 am

    Hi Carlos, no uphill option at this time but I expect it. Still analogous as human downhill skiing depends on muscles. Lou

  22. Jim Milstein February 1st, 2019 11:17 am

    Can it tell whether the skier is going uphill or down? Why would it matter?

  23. VT skier February 1st, 2019 1:14 pm

    This adaptive device allows Lisa to ski pain free.
    ” By the end of the run, I was making the carefree turns of my youth.”

    So that is what is important, for her to be able ski well, and pain free.
    Go Lisa !

  24. Crazy Horse February 1st, 2019 3:53 pm

    I remember seeing an old Popular Mechanics from the ’50s that featured a ski device that had a ski base on one side and a snowmobile like powered tread on the other side powered by a motor on a backpack. When you wanted to ski downhill you just flipped it over and voila— DPS time. LOL

    Perfect invention for those of your are really lazy instead of just being worn out!

  25. Dan February 3rd, 2019 10:48 pm

    Cads have been around for a long time: cads.com

  26. Lou Dawson 2 February 4th, 2019 7:33 am

    Dan, yes they have. What’s your point other than stating the obvious? Lou

  27. Malin February 6th, 2019 4:04 pm

    Hi Lou,
    I have a genetic muscle ionchannelopathy known as Hypokalaemic periodic paralysis, it does what it says on the tin. It also has caused permanent weakness, particularly of my quads. I grew up In Sweden and skied all my childhood and adult life until I became paralysed for an 18 month period in 2010 . Long story short, I now ski with a ski mojo for the last 4 southern hemisphere seasons. The amount of reduction in muscle effort needed when wearing the ski mojo is 30% so that is very similar to the Elevate. I would be super keen to try the Elevate but the promotions guy will not agree to at this stage ship one either to try or buy to New Zealand .So I will continue with my trusted ski mojo in our 2019 season starting in June and follow further developments with interest. Ideally we need a double blind random controlled placebo trial. (Yeah, right). Kind regards, Malin

  28. malin February 6th, 2019 4:05 pm

    i, I enjoy your website. I am involved in avalanche rescue training for outdoor instructors & SAR here in NZ.

    Cheers,Malin

  29. Lou Dawson 2 February 6th, 2019 5:04 pm

    Thanks Malin, I’m trying to arrange a Ski-mojo review. They are similar, but the Elevate is powered and much more complex. I would imagine either is appropriate for different people, ideally someone in need would try them both. Ski-mojo is clearly the way to go for ski touring at this juncture. Lou

  30. Jack February 7th, 2019 2:36 pm

    Well, I’ll be joining the 65 year old crew next ski season and, while I don’t need it now, its nice to think that good technology is going to be available, say, 8 or 10 years from now when conditioning and natural brio just don’t cut it any more.

    Great review!

  31. Walter Dandy February 20th, 2019 9:58 pm

    I believe the archaeologists will get it wrong when they dig up the remnants of today’s muscle augmentation technology for skiing. They will think the Exo must have come first, based on complexity and weight. They will date the MoJo as perhaps decades later. Much later, they will suppose, some moron just said, hey, all we need is a few ounces of pelvic harness, a rubber band on the back of the boot, and removable pulley-headed sticks to bear the load. That would be CADS, and that would have been me.

    I cooked those things up in Vail in the 88-89 season, refined them some, and began selling them in the spring of ’91. The MoJo guy started with CADS. People who got them back then, in some cases, are still using them today. The gear you might demo (free) at Vail today is essentially the same.

    Luckily what I stumbled on is good enough to make skiing fun for lots of washed up Olympic, World Cup, and old college racers with up to end stage osteoarthitic joints. We have put a ton of people back in helicopter skiing.

    We are also proud to have extended the skiing lives of many intermediate and early stage skiers. We are intensely proud of the accomplishments of innumerable CADS skiers with such neuro-muscular disorders as multiple sclerosis, polio, post-polio, cerebral palsy, stroke, Parkinson’s, head injury, muscular dystrophy, and others. Some of these skiers are not ambulatory. These are people who were smart enough to examine for efficacy what they perceived as the first artificial strength in sport.

    We don’t advertise. Our message is communicated by our users, but is generally only comprehensible to physicians, engineers, physicists and other mechanical types. (Vail does run TV ads on our behalf – hopeful of skier retention – but we have nothing to do with that.)

    I would welcome a comparative evaluation of CADS vs any of the newcomers. I think we might deliver quite a lot more, and all from one pound and twelve ounces of equipment that has been out there for 30 years.

    Thank you for this interesting discussion. You have an engaged and capable readership.

    Walter Dandy
    Vail





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