Cyborg-walkers stride toward Japan's robotics future

Aug 03, 2009 by Kyoko Hasegawa
Japan's robotics venture Cyberdyne employee wearing the robot-suit "HAL" (Hybrid Assistive Limb) walk on a street in Tokyo. The three Japanese cyborg look-alikes turned heads on busy Tokyo streets and subway trains Monday as they made their way to a robotics conference on a hot summer's day -- without breaking a sweat.

Three Japanese cyborg look-alikes turned heads on busy Tokyo streets and subway trains Monday as they made their way to a robotics conference on a hot summer's day -- without breaking a sweat.

Two men and a woman, wearing what looked like white plastic exoskeletons over black outfits, were testing -- at a pace of 1.8 kilometres (1.1 miles) an hour -- robotic suits designed to give mobility to the injured and disabled.

"What on earth is it?" asked Hisako Ueda, 43, digital camera in hand, as she and her 10-year-old daughter Ayaka gazed at the trio striding through Akihabara district, a high-tech geeks' paradise also called Electric Town.

Undeterred by the onlookers' stares, the three completed their mechanically assisted trek by train, taxi and on foot from the suburb of Tsukuba, 50 kilometres (30 miles) north of central Tokyo, to the robo-meeting.

One of the three robotics company employees, 32-year-old Takatoshi Hisano, said the futuristic 11-kilogramme (24-pound) outfit -- which can detect and preempt its user's movements -- made the two-hour commute that much easier.

"I'm not tired at all," he said with a smile when they arrived at the building where the robotics industry meeting was about to start in a fourth-floor room. "Let's take the stairs instead of the lift."

The high-tech suits were developed by Yoshiyuki Sankai, a professor at Tsukuba University, whose company is already leasing them to several hospitals and nursing homes and has just received an order from Denmark.

At the meeting, the three were greeted by assorted robots -- including Toyota's personal transport assistance "Winglet" and Fuji Heavy Industries' automatic floor cleaning machine -- alongside plenty of humans with high hopes of turning the sector into the new face of Inc.

Japan has launched a five-year project of putting so-called people-assisting robots into widespread practical use, the government-backed New Energy and Industrial Technology Organisation (NEDO) said in a statement.

"We believe that the robotics industry in this people-assisting field will expand one hundredfold," said NEDO senior official Katsuya Okano. "But for this goal, what's lacking is a safety standard, which we aim to set up."

A government survey in Japan, now a fast ageing society, estimates that the global market for such robots, including nurses and domestic maids, will expand to 6.2 trillion yen (65 billion dollars) by 2025.


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User comments : 11

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gmurphy
not rated yet Aug 03, 2009
where the power source for this device stored and what does it run on?
earls
5 / 5 (5) Aug 03, 2009
Batteries/Electricity. The power supply wraps around your back above the hips.

I'm personally still waiting for my Tony Stark fusion powered chest implant.
RayCherry
5 / 5 (2) Aug 03, 2009
Makes you wonder what the military version is capable of.
webitube
4 / 5 (1) Aug 03, 2009
I look forward to the day that these are available to the general public. My mom, who suffered a stroke, could definitely use one of these.
defunctdiety
3 / 5 (3) Aug 03, 2009
The one bit of technical information in the whole article:

...can detect and preempt its user's movements...


Nothing about speed/load capability... Aggravating.

Plus, until there's nerve integration, there's nothing cybernetic here... that's like calling someone with a watch or contacts a cyborg.

These are just fancy watches. :P
bmcghie
5 / 5 (2) Aug 03, 2009
^ Well, yes and no. Watches might even monitor your heart rate in some cases, but I have yet to see one that takes load off of your circulatory system. This is a very cool step towards mechanical augmentation of humans.

I also agree that the lack of technical data is annoying. This stuff looks a little old, at least compared to wikipedia's article on the same product line. check it out: http://en.wikiped...ki/HAL_5
defunctdiety
3 / 5 (2) Aug 03, 2009
Watches might even monitor your heart rate in some cases, but I have yet to see one that takes load off of your circulatory system. This is a very cool step towards mechanical augmentation of humans.

The point was that they are just technology you wear, i.e. not cyborgs.
STAGGERBOT
2 / 5 (2) Aug 05, 2009
http://www.youtub...IXfcifHE

complete with a 70's sci-fi B-movie soundtrack!
STAGGERBOT
1 / 5 (2) Aug 05, 2009
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iT7IXfcifHE



complete with a 70's sci-fi B-movie soundtrack!

too awesome...a digit-e version of "born to be wild" at 3:11
melajara
1 / 5 (1) Aug 10, 2009
Better would be to face directly the prospect of aging debilitation and fund MASSIVELY regenerative medicine or lifespan extension research, see e.g. http://www.methus...ion.org/
Nowadays, aging and dying should not be seen as an unavoidable fate but as an avoidable choice provided we address this problem scientifically without obsolete religious prejudice ;-)
ofidiofile
not rated yet Aug 19, 2009
defunctdeity:

Watches might even monitor your heart rate in some cases, but I have yet to see one that takes load off of your circulatory system. This is a very cool step towards mechanical augmentation of humans.


The point was that they are just technology you wear, i.e. not cyborgs.


nothing cybernetic?

i think what commenter bmcghie was noting was that a cyborg is simply a biological organism with one or more body processes mechanically enhanced. why is a suit that physically 'preempts' or amplifies movement less "cybernetic" than one that does the same by responding to, say, nerve conduction?