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HAL robot suit modified to take on nuclear plants

Still grappling with the Fukushima nuclear crisis, Japan is belatedly developing a robotic exoskeleton for first responders.


You're sweating in your bulky radiation suit, your dosimeter is freaking you out, and you're trying to close a valve that might just save a large portion of the population from some very nasty fallout.

Wouldn't it be nice to have some robotic help?

Japan's robot start-up Cyberdyne is modifying its Hybrid Assistive Limb (HAL) power suit for use by first responders in nuclear accidents.

The exoskeleton is being improved to help workers who have to wear heavy radiation protection clothing. Japan is still struggling with radiation at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, which was severely damaged last year during one of the country's most powerful earthquakes.

Unveiled at Japan Robot Week 2012, the suit weighs about 154 pounds and is lined with tungsten shielding that can halve radiation exposure, according to University of Tsukuba professor Yoshiyuki Sankai, who developed HAL.

HAL, which has been marketed as a power suit for the elderly or physiotherapy patients, has motorized joints that move automatically by detecting electric signals in the user's skin, boosting strength.

The nuke suit, developed with the New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO), also has sensors that monitor the user's heart rate and temperature, and has an exhaust fan in the back to help prevent heatstroke.

The suit's legs can carry most of its weight, as well as tools the user needs.

We'll see if it actually gets deployed to Fukushima, where foreign robots such as the iRobot's PackBot have helped Japanese workers dealing with the plant debris and structurally compromised buildings.

Given the magnitude of the disaster, unfortunately it seems too little, too late.

(Via Gizmag)