Wearable bot said to make you stronger

The Hybrid Assistive Limb out of Japan promises to "expand and improve physical capability" up to tenfold, and could assist in rehabilitation and heavy labor.

HAL
Cyberdyne

This is about the closest thing to a Superman suit we've seen. Put it on, say its creators, and the motorized Hybrid Assistive Limb can "expand and improve physical capability" up to tenfold in activities such as walking, standing, and climbing stairs.

Through a sensor attached to the skin, "HAL" captures faint biosignals on the skin's surface that result from messages sent from the brain to muscles when a person attempts to move. A computer analyzes how much power the wearer intends to generate, then calculates the amount of torque needed to put limbs into action.

HAL wearable robot
Cyberdyne

Especially noteworthy here is that the suit responds to intended motion, rather than actual motion.

"This is what we call a 'voluntary control system' that provides movement interpreting the wearer's intention from the biosignals in advance of the actual movement," explains Japan's Cyberdyne, which will soon begin manufacturing the cybernetic suits for about $4,200 apiece, possibly making it the first such wearable device aimed at civilians.

The company was formed by Sankai Yoshiyuki, a professor at the University of Tsukuba who is heading up research on HAL, which he says has the advantages of both robot and cyborg. Yoshiyuki says he was inspired by reading Isaac Asimov's "I Robot" as a child.

Given the response to steroid use in professional sports, don't expect to see athletes competing in this performance-enhancing suit anytime soon. "HAL" is currently being used by people in Japan with weakened muscles and disabilities related to strokes and/or spinal cord injuries. It's also expected to report for heavy-labor duty support at factories, as well as rescue support at disaster sites.

Cyberdyne insists that the suit won't wear you down, as the exoskeleton supports its own weight. The latest battery runs for five hours under "normal activities," which we assume does not mean mountain climbing.

About the author

Leslie Katz, Crave's senior editor, heads up a team that covers the most crushworthy (and wackiest) tech, science, and culture around. As a co-host of the now-retired CNET News Daily Podcast, she was sometimes known to channel Terry Gross and still uses her trained "podcast voice" to bully the speech recognition software on automated customer service lines. E-mail Leslie.

 

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