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?

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38 Responses

  1. News update for this article:

    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. Liudvikas says:

    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. Janene says:

    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

    • Anonymous says:

      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. Anonymous says:

    too many such suits, ah ya ya ya ya I love technology! good share thank you
    casino en ligne

  9. parham says:


    • Valkyrie Ice says:

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

      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.

      Hope any of this is helpful for you. : )

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

  11. miles dyson says:

    Judgment Day moved up 3yrs…

  12. Anonymous says:

    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

  13. hopeful says:

    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. LiVam says:

    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.

    • Anonymous says:

      I have one acronym for you: EMP

    • Anonymous says:

      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. Tobi Von Redwing says:

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

  17. Anonymous says:

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

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