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Japan building new power suit, rescue robots

To deal with catastrophes like the March quake and tsunamis, Japan will spend $14 million on a power exoskeleton and rescue robots.

Japan's Cyberdyne is renting its HAL power suit to physiotherapy centers. Cyberdyne

Japan is preparing to spend about 1.1 billion yen ($14 million) on a five-year project to develop rescue robots that can be used in disasters like the quake and tsunamis that slammed the country in March.

The machines will come in three types: exoskeleton suits to boost human strength, robots that can rescue people from rubble, and robots that can search for people in water, according to a Nikkei Business Daily article.

Although similar devices have been developed in Japan, such as Tmsuk's two-armed Enryu debris mover, few have made it past the prototype stage and to see real use outside of robot exhibitions.

While Japan is renowned for its robotics expertise and was home to about one-third of global industrial robots as of the end of 2009, it lacks military-grade machines and failed to marshal any significant robot response to the March catastrophe.

An international effort to use foreign-built ROVs to find victims off the coast of northern Japan didn't turn up any bodies. Paro, a domestically developed therapeutic robot toy, was also dispatched to the north to help comfort victims.

Most of the robots that have been used at the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, meanwhile, have come from overseas.

The five-year project will begin next April under the aegis of the Ministry of Science and Technology, with the Fire and Disaster Management Agency and local municipalities adding input on how to make robots useful in disasters.