A company in Japan called ‘Cyberdyne’ may share its name with the company responsible for nuclear destruction and the killer robots of the “Terminator” movie series, but the similarities end there.
If the idea of a robot suit helping those with disabilities walk sounds like the stuff of science fiction, think again: the real-life Cyberdyne is in the business of revolutionizing lives.
The firm produces an exoskeleton robot device called the Hybrid Assistive Limb, or HAL, which in another sci-fi related coincidence shares its name with the devious computer in Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey”.
It gives power to its wearer by anticipating and supporting the user’s body movements using sensors monitoring electric signals sent from the brain to the muscles. Current options are for a single leg device or both legs.
HAL has many potential applications, from assisting caregivers lift people to helping construction workers or even firefighters.
In one case, three weeks of training with HAL enabled a man who had suffered brain injuries to stand on his own feet after nine years in a wheelchair, according to Cyberdyne CEO Yoshiyuki Sankai, professor at the University of Tsukuba.
The group is now gearing up for mass-production and started leasing the battery-powered suit to welfare facilities last year.
“Developing robots without utilizing them in society would just be an extension of a hobby,” Sankai, 52, said. “What I develop should be part of society and benefit people.”
Some 50 hospitals and homes for the elderly in Japan are currently using a lower-limb version of HAL to assist disabled people. Rental fees for both legs are 140,000-150,000 yen a month ($1,600-$1,800 US dollars).
Cyberdyne plans to start leasing a full-body version for caregivers next year, which assists both arms and legs and allows users to carry a load of up to 70 kilograms (154 pounds) with one arm!
It aims to begin sales to consumers from 2015.