Yamaha Motor Co. bets on a wearable robot just for skiers

Consumer robotics companies are starting to specialize as the sector begins to find its footing.
Written by Greg Nichols, Contributing Writer

Roam Robotics, a company that makes a robotic brace for skiers, just closed a $12 million Series A. Leading the round was Yamaha Motor Co., along with investors Boost VC, Heuristics Capital Partners, Menlo Ventures, and others.

Roam's signature product, ELEVATE, is aimed squarely at the 16 million Americans who participate in snow sports. The device comprises two braces that are strapped to the user's thighs and connected to their ski or snowboard boots. In total, ELEVATE weighs only a few pounds and takes strain off legs, permitting skiers to stay out longer and push their runs further to the edge.

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As I wrote in April, targeting the small, highly specialized winter sports sector is a smart move as consumer robotics companies grope to find market fit. Skiers and snowboarders spend big money on equipment, and the threat of season-ending knee and back injuries is well-understood among powder hounds.

"Roam exists to change the boundaries of human mobility," said Roam Founder and Chief Executive Officer Tim Swift. "That boundary is different for every person, but they exist for everyone. Whether you are an Olympian, an everyday athlete, or looking to regain lost mobility, we want to power you beyond what your body currently makes possible."

Swift is an alum of Ekso Bionics, one of the first companies to commercialize wearable robotic technology to improve mobility. But Ekso has struggled to find a viable market, bouncing between military, mobility, rehabilitation, and more recently industrial applications.

No doubt inspired by his view as a senior engineer at Ekso, Swift's company has decided to maintain a laser market focus for its debut product.

Yamaha Motor Co., on the other hand, which has a mandate to focus on mobility products, is likely eyeing future applications of Roam's technology portfolio.

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"Roam is creating an exciting new category of products that enhance human capabilities," said Amish Parashar, Partner at Yamaha Motor Ventures. "By making these robotic exoskeletons affordable, scalable, and powerful Roam has removed the biggest barriers to widespread adoption. We envision these products will one day be commonly used to create new thrilling experiences and support human mobility."

ELEVATE will cost around $2500, about the cost of skis and bindings. For West Coasters or those mountain hopping this winter, the Bay Area company will be offering demos in Tahoe and Park City.

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