words :: Ben Osborne // photos :: Courtesy of Roam Robotics
How many people do you know who have had to end their ski, bike, or hiking career because of knee issues? Well, there might be a solution coming soon. Roam Robotics, makers of lightweight and affordable exoskeletons, are breaking new ground in the battle to prolong mobility for all, and that’s something we can get behind. We sat down with Johnnie Kern, Director of Marketing at Roam, to hear what this new technology is all about. —ML
Why start Roam Robotics? What’s the inspiration behind it?
Our founder Tim Swift worked in the field of robotic exoskeletons for years and was tired of big, heavy and expensive products that were just not commercially available to people with mobility issues. He got tired of inadequate solutions, so quit his job and started Roam on the principle of creating solutions that could be readily available to everyday people … meaning something that could be produced affordably and implemented into daily life. Roam’s vision is to expand the boundaries of human mobility—sounds a little lofty, but it’s happening on skis right in front of our eyes.
“Roam’s vision is to expand the boundaries of human mobility – sounds a little lofty, but it’s happening on skis right in front of our eyes.”
Who is the Elevate Ski Exoskeleton for?
Our customers are anyone that has knee pain or discomfort issues while skiing. Often these are aging, passionate athletes that have had some knee issues and just want to keep skiing. But honestly, we may just be scratching the surface because we’ve had an amazing response from the adaptive community, we’ve had novice skiers tell us that they think it helps them stand more upright, PSIA instructor trainers that think it could potentially be used as a tool to help teach skiing, and physical therapists and surgeons tell us that a device like this should be used to get weekend warriors and elite athletes back out on the snow sooner after surgery.
Can you give us a brief idea of what technology goes into this device?
The device uses smart sensors [gyroscopes, accelerometers, etc.] to interpret body position and user intent while skiing. The feedback from those sensors determines how much pneumatic [air] support is provided at the knee joint. The user controls that level of support and the effect is that it offloads up to 30% of the user’s body weight from knees and quads.
What’s the biggest piece of negative feedback you’ve gotten? Most positive?
There are always gonna be haters. And this device might not be for everyone … but if Elevate is allowing people who love the sport of skiing to stay out longer or to simply ski more, then how is that anything but amazing? I’ve skied with all different types of people that love the sport and having mobility, pain or discomfort issues and when they stop halfway down the run to tell you that this is first time that they’ve skied without discomfort in 20 years, it’s hard not to smile when you see those big ear-to-ear grins. Just like it’s hard not to smile when a little kid looks up at his dad and says, “Dad, does this mean Grandpa can go skiing with us again?”
What does the future of Roam look like? Any innovations coming down the pipe?
I’d say it seems pretty bright. Technology moves fast and we will certainly look to take advantage of that. We’re getting a lot of great attention from the outdoor and medical industries, big-tech and the military. The potential to have some really positive impacts in millions of peoples’ lives is what keeps us motivated. And we were psyched to receive Special Mention in Time magazine’s Best Inventions of 2019, so others clearly see all the possible benefits as well. Come on out and take it for a rip—we’d love to hear what you think.
For more info on Roam, head over to their site. —ML