Cyberdine has just shown a broader range of its HAL robots--strap-on exoskeletons that boost a user's strength with electric motors. As well as the headline-grabbing medical version, there's an industrial edition and an arm-booster for repetitive tasks.
Cyberdyne's HAL legs have been gaining attention for a while now, thanks to the fact that they offer an astonishingly promising medical boost to certain types of patients with reduced mobility. Also, they're actually being used in the field as a commercial product. Just before the Japanese earthquake struck last week, Cyberdine was exhibiting at the Cybernics International Forum and demonstrated an increased range of HAL systems, including a full body-assist suit and a "lite" HAL version intended for single-arm boosting in industrial situations.
The HAL system is an off-shoot of research at Tsukuba university by professor Sankai, and he spoke to DigInfoTV at the Cybernics forum to explain the thinking behind the robot: Most interesting among the discussions was the fact that the robotic full-body suit, which is capable of letting an operator lift weights and maneuver objects that would otherwise be at or beyond their own physical limits, is aimed at industrial manufacturing needs. As the average worker's age increases, this could be a very good thing.
As an offshoot of the technology, Sankai also imagines there would be uses in fields such as gaming in the future--the suit could contribute to in-game experiences, and the clever way it works (by reading electrical signals in muscles) could even be used to record "human techniques and skills" so that the information could be saved.
HAL's not the only suit like this--we covered the impressive Berkeley Bionics eLegs system before, which works in a similar way to boost user mobility. And let's not forget HULC, the titanium hydraulic-powered "anthropomorphic exoskeleton" that may ultimately go a little way toward transforming soldiers into superhumans.
In the light of the ongoing disaster in Japan one can't help but wonder if, in the future, rescue efforts will be ameliorated by clever robots like these. Lifting sections of a collapsed building would be much simpler for cyber-assisted rescuers.
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[Top image by Lockheed Martin]