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Cyborg Exoskeletons May Soon Become as Common as Bicycles

Great grandma can soon put aside that powered wheelchair she uses to terrorize the residents at her rest home. Japan’s robotics venture Cyberdyne’s robot-suit "HAL" (Hybrid Assistive Limb) is now available for rent and is being tested on the streets of Tokyo:

HAL, an exoskeleton, is a mind-controlled wearable machine that gives humans enhanced mobility.

The HAL exoskeleton –- described in a popular article for the first edition of h+ ("I am Ironman!") – helps the wearer to carry out a variety of everyday tasks, including standing up from a chair, walking, climbing up and down stairs, and lifting heavy objects. The suit can operate for almost five hours before it needs recharging.

Cyberdyne’s HAL isn’t quite ready for great grandma just yet. But until it is, Toyota researchers in Japan have built a brain/machine interface (BMI) that has been demonstrated to control a wheelchair using a person’s thoughts. The wheelchair enables a person to make it turn left or right or to move forward simply by thinking the commands –- and it has a 125 millisecond response time.

The HAL exoskeleton, on the other hand, has robotic limbs that strap to your arms and legs — providing much fuller mobility than a wheelchair. The suit’s backpack contains a battery and computer controller. When a HAL-assisted person attempts to move, nerve signals are sent from the brain to the muscles, and very weak traces of these signals can be detected on the surface of the skin. The HAL exoskeleton identifies these signals using a sensor, and a signal is sent to the suit’s power unit telling the suit to move in synch with the wearer’s own limbs.

HALHAL comes in three sizes — small, medium and large and weighs in at 23kg (50.7 lbs). A single leg version rents for 150,000 yen ($1,570) a month, while a two-leg unit goes for 220,000 yen ($2,300) a month. Cyberdyne has yet to announce when HAL will go on sale to the public or what the price tag will be.

Great grandma won’t be the only one who will benefit from a thought-controlled exoskeleton. Seiji Uchida, paralyzed from the neck down for over two decades, was able to get within 500 yards of the summit of the 13,741-foot Breithorn Mountain in Switzerland with the help of a HAL exoskeleton worn by his friend Takeshi Matsumoto. Mr. Matsumoto was able to carry the quadriplegic Mr. Uchida because Matsumoto was wearing the exoskeleton. Imagine a next-phase exoskeleton that Mr. Uchida can control himself without the assistance of Mr. Matsumoto. HAL shows tremendous potential to help mobilize the disabled to perform day-to-day tasks.

If anyone is physically challenged, it’s the soldier carrying a huge load on the battlefield. Exoskeletons give soldiers the ability to move faster while carrying more weight. For nearly a decade, a project launched by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has been looking at ways to help with the heavy lifting. The Exoskeletons for Human Performance Augmentation, a program with the goal “to develop devices and machines that will increase the speed, strength and endurance of soldiers in combat environments,” is a way to create super soldiers that can lift hundreds of pounds as easily as lifting 10 pounds and can run twice their normal speed.

Under contract from the Army, a team at Raytheon Sarcos, led by Stephen Jacobsen, built an exoskeleton called XOS. Looking something like Ripley wearing the industrial exo-suit power loader in the classic SF film Aliens, software engineer Rex Jameson used his XOS to run, jump, and even speed box a punching bag. Jameson also was able to do a lengthy series of reps on a weight machine using 200 lb weights. “He stopped because he got bored,” Jacobsen says, “not because he was tired.”  Here’s a video of the Sarcos exoskeleton:

 

Cyberdyne’s exoskeleton is considerably more sleek and stylish. Tokyo rentals were initiated in August, 2009. Like Segways, the popular 2-wheeled, self-balancing electric vehicles now being using by police to patrol the streets of major cities, it’s easy to imagine Washington, D.C., Minneapolis, Denver, San Francisco, Chicago, or even Albuquerque providing exoskeleton rentals.

The next phase in bicycle rentals is high-tech bike-sharing systems — an investment in public bicycles worldwide. Walk up to a kiosk, swipe a credit or membership card and ride away. Return it there or at another station, like renting a luggage cart at the airport. Cyberdyne’s exoskeletons appear to be easier to use than bicycles, particularly for weary travelers. Why not rent an exoskeleton rather than a bicycle?

With fashionable cyborg exoskeletons now available for rent on the streets of Tokyo, can major U.S. cities be far behind?

38 Comments

  1. News update for this article:

    http://www.physorg.com/news/2010-12-japan-robot-disabled.html

    HAL has many potential applications, from assisting caregivers lift people to helping construction workers or even firefighters.

    In one case, three weeks of training with HAL enabled a man who had suffered brain injuries to stand on his own feet after nine years in a wheelchair, said Cyberdyne CEO Yoshiyuki Sankai, professor at the University of Tsukuba.

    The group is now gearing up for mass-production and started leasing the battery-powered suit to welfare facilities last year.

    “Developing robots without utilising them in society would just be an extension of a hobby,” Sankai, 52, said. “What I develop should be part of society and benefit people.”

    A Japanese adventurer with disabilities is planning to leave his wheelchair behind and walk up a medieval French World Heritage site next year with the lower-limb HAL.

    Seiji Uchida, 48, who lost the ability to walk in a car accident 27 years ago, said earlier this year he has long dreamed of visiting the picturesque abbey of Mont Saint-Michel, set on a rocky islet in Normandy.

    Uchida said his visit to the island where a steep and narrow trail leads to an abbey and former fortress was to “prove that it is possible for people with disabilities to visit the world’s historic sites without relying on facilities like elevators”.

  2. Developments like this will be og great help to those in need of better mobility. Hopefully the price of using the exoskeleton would be made affordable and would be also available to other countries like those belonging to the Third World.

  3. I’ve got into accident five years ago and I’ve been disabled since then. I’ m so looking forward to trying out this new made product, as I have lost any hopes of walking on my feet again. Doctors tried different methods to get my feet on track again, but in the end it bought to zero result. I hope this innovative device will help me get my normal routine of life back again.

  4. The exoskeleton’s software was produced by Initech.

  5. Millions of people using Cycle.Cycle is the best way of travelling

  6. I can walk on my own, but I still want this. The prospect of being able to increase your abilities to that of a superhuman, seems very appealing. I’m peaceful and wouldn’t use it for war, but I’d very much like to run at 100km/h or lift half a ton just for the fun of it :)

  7. Skynet is closer to reality than we think. Do not be surprised if you see a naked man running down the streets of Tokyo. Japan is already ahead of everyone else, so Terminator women are just around the corner.
    Janene Dalton

    • Um, no. Terminators are fully automated learning machines, these suits are cyborg-based. Cyborg is usually used to describe a being that has some biological component controlling it. I.e. a technological enhancement to improve human function.

      Mankind doesn’t have any AI sufficient enough to operate on its own without supervision yet, and likely won’t for at least another 10-20 years.

      The closest we have to it right now is ASIMO, a semi-self-autonomous robot from Honda that still has many major issues, and runs basically on upgraded software with increased behavior coding. It is still nowhere near being entirely independant.

  8. too many such suits, ah ya ya ya ya I love technology! good share thank you
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  9. IM PARALYSED BOY.&28 YERS OLD
    HOW CAN I BUY HAL?

    • Sad to say Hal is at present only available in Japan.

      http://www.cyberdyne.jp/English/help/index.html

      that links to their contact page with info for contacting them directly. As they are apparently looking to expand into the EU and other regions I have hopes they will reach the USA in the near future. While they request patience for those in other regions in their FAQ, you may be able to contact them for further information.

      Berkley Bionics, a department of Berkley University has also developed a exoskeleton similar to the HAL called the HULC (human universal load carrier) while primarily for military use, I do believe they are also hoping to use them for civilians as well.

      http://www.berkeleybionics.com/contact.html

      Hope any of this is helpful for you. : )

  10. In the next few years, our world will be full of retarded storm troopers. ^_^

  11. Judgment Day moved up 3yrs…

  12. Isnt it time mankind stopped dreaming of how he can creat more and more destructive weapons and started unleashing weapons of mass creation

    Dont believe its possible? 350,000 disagree

    Come and see a future thats much brighter and achievable now at http://www.thevenusproject.com

  13. this is what ive been waiting for! man i knew japan had something to fix me!! my shoulders suck and i cant move my legs, so this is the answer!! course ill never get one, like someone said the insurance companies would never make it affordable. :( hell, i cant even get my fitted wheelchair, i have to buy crappy ones every few yrs as i wear them out. out of pocket mind you, not insurance covered. that makes me think i’d never get to try one. :s but it would be awesome if for just a lil bit i got to try it out!

  14. This is an awesome invention. I was thinking about ways in getting my mother help moving around Chicago – I guess Toyota beat me to it. Nonetheless, I would consider buying it if the technology comes to the Chicago area.

  15. This is sick. Just like the atomic bomb.

    Things like this won’t be used for good if they’re given to the army. I mean, there are benefits for disabled people etc. But no army should ever be given this equipment. Too much fucking power for the human race. Just like the atomic bomb.

    • I have one acronym for you: EMP

    • The sad thing is the comparison between the two countries developing this technology says alot about them:

      The Japanese based Cyberdyne created HAL for the Health Care sector with the intention of assistin people with physical difficulties, with possible military applications in the future.

      The US based Raytheon Sarcos is creating their exoskeleton at the moment, with military exclusivity. How many disabled people in the US could benefit from this technology?

      It goes to show where each country’s priorities are. If it ever does come to the health care sector in the US, as usual you can expect to see the rich disabled with them while everyone else is left out in the cold.

      As technology advances, it only further highlights the weaknesses of the US Health Care system.

  16. It looks silly but if it works… I”M GAME!

  17. Strangely, I’m uncertain over how much of this is actually true. It all seems a bit web hoaxy to me.

  18. Home-made exoskeleton:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JPS2l5fQ55A
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xqa08UGZGtk

    This won’t help you lift anything, yet looks remarkably futuristic and is claimed to be bullet proof.

  19. Billions of people are using bicycle in the world. Bicycle are extremely durable and extremely cheap to produce, they do not require to be recharged. Cyborg exoskeletons are great, but the hyperbola in the title is somewhat ridiculous.

  20. Well, the bike-sharing system in many cities might not seem to be high-tech, but the idea of just insertng your member card in one of many rental stations and dispose your bike at the next one works very fine sine some years now.

  21. hal, cyberdyne? someone need to brush up on their scifi…

  22. Wasn’t Cyberdyne systems the name of the lab that hid the terminator’s arm and chip for R&D?

  23. It’s called ‘HAL’ and made by ‘Cyberdyne’. Does it get any more ominous than that?

  24. I don’t understand. If it relies on nerve signals on the skin, how was Seiji Uchida, “paralyzed from the neck down”, able to use it?

  25. DAT ASS

  26. Im waiting for the first hard lockup it does

  27. The exoskeleton’s software was produced by Initech.

  28. While I can see the potential benefits of the disabled using these machines, I am a bit pessimistic about its accessibility. Only those disabled people who are wealthy enough will have a chance to use something like this. You aren’t likely to find medicare helping you out on this one.
    What I see is this mostly being used in the military to create more efficient killing machines…*sigh*

  29. He didn’t use it, he was carried by another man using it.
    Sure, the other man could walk normally, but he wouldn’t be able to carry the paralized man all the way up a mountain without it.

  30. You need to read that part again. Seiji Uchida was carried by someone wearing the suit.

    The speculation is to whether or not a system can be created that intercepts the signals earlier, like in the neck or shoulders.

  31. RTFA. I can hardly believe you posted this without reading the article. If you did read the article, you need a lesson in comprehension. Jesus — when will people pull their heads out of their buttocks?

  32. “Hyperbola”? I saw no mention of an unending arc in this article.

    Oh, wa-a-ait . . . “hyperbole”? Surely you don’t think the title was a bit of an overstatement.

    Not that there’s a difference, mind you.

  33. mmmm killing machine….yes…..very very good. And that my fellow Americans is how we WILL make, MADE IN AMERICA, obsolete, and create our new motto, TAKEN BY AMERICAN the new slogan.

  34. Next thing will be: Student discovers next new thing, calls them ‘legs’. Claims they allow locomotion without the need for expensive exoskeleton, and runs off a body’s internal power supply without the need auto insurance quotes for charging/carrying external batteries. Committed to asylum for own good, release next Tuesday after recovering sanity and is quoted as saying “yeah, I realise it’s crazy, expecting people to not spend money on walking around using mechanised gear, and walk around for free instead’.