At the 2011 Consumer Electronics Show this morning, an array of Japanese companies showed off a bold vision of the future. Among them was Cyberdyne Inc., makers of the HAL (hybrid assistive limb) robotic exoskeleton.
Kenichi Ichihara, mayor of Tsukaba City, Japan, states, “The technology you see with HAL has a lot of meaning for us, as Japan is rapidly aging. We are the most rapidly aging country in the world.”
Tsukaba City, located northeast of Tokyo, is heralded as the robotics capital of Japan. The HAL suit is one of its star products.
According to Takatoshi Kuno, Cyberdyne’s sales division manager, the legs part of the suit only weighs 10 kg (~22 kg) and is essentially self-supporting. It is capable of walking at speeds of up to 6 km/hr (~3.7 mph) and has a battery life of 1.5 hours. The suit taps into nerve impulses to create a natural brain-commanded walking motion. The suit uses high-strength stepper servomotors and uses computer hardware to maintain balance when standing, walking, or climbing with the suit.
Perhaps the most intriguing detail shared with us was Mr. Kuno’s statement that the U.S. government had contacted the company and expressed interest in purchasing HAL suits. He said the military primarily was hoping to use the suits in a medical capacity (e.g. for rehabilitating or providing increased mobility to injured soldiers).