robot-suit-hal

Japan’s Robot Suit Gets Global Safety Certificate

A robot suit that can help the elderly or disabled get around was given its global safety certificate in Japan on Wednesday, paving the way for its worldwide rollout.

The Hybrid Assistive Limb, or HAL, is a power-assisted pair of legs developed by Japanese robot maker Cyberdyne, which has also developed similar robot arms.

A quality assurance body issued the certificate based on a draft version of an international safety standard for personal robots that is expected to be approved later this year, the ministry for the economy, trade and industry said.

The metal-and-plastic exoskeleton has become the first nursing-care robot certified under the draft standard, a ministry official said.

Battery-powered HAL, which detects muscle impulses to anticipate and support the user’s body movements, is designed to help the elderly with mobility or help hospital or nursing carers to lift patients.

Cyberdyne, based in Tsukuba, northeast of Tokyo, has so far leased some 330 suits to 150 hospitals, welfare and other facilities in Japan since 2010, at 178,000 yen ($1,950) per suit per year.

“It is very significant that Japan has obtained this certification before others in the world,” said Yoshiyuki Sankai, the head of Cyberdyne.

The company is unrelated to the firm of the same name responsible for the cyborg assassin played by Arnold Schwarzenegger in the 1984 film “The Terminator”.

“This is a first step forward for Japan, the great robot nation, to send our message to the world about robots of the future,” said Sankai, who is also a professor at Tsukuba University.

A different version of HAL – coincidentally the name of the evil supercomputer in Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” – has been developed for workers who need to wear heavy radiation protection as part of the clean-up at the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant.

Industrial robots have long been used in Japan, and robo-suits are gradually making inroads into hospitals and retirement homes.

But critics say the government has been slow in creating a safety framework for such robots in a country whose rapidly-ageing population is expected to enjoy ever longer lives.

The Robot Suit HAL (Hybrid Assistive Limb) has been designed and built by Cyberdyne Inc. with assistance from researchers around the country. It’s described by its makers as a cyborg-type robot meant to supplement human muscles or to assist in their rehabilitation. Its part handrail, part sensor and part hydraulically controlled machinery. A patient stands between two handrails, holding on, while sensors are affixed to the skin of the legs. The sensors pick up nerve signals which are sent to an onboard computer. Those signals are then converted to action by small motors and power units that cause the muscle to be worked in the same way it would be were the person’s body able to move it on their own. The end result is a direct connection between nerve signals and movement, which the researchers believe, will result in faster and perhaps better recovery for the patient.

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Cyberdyne’s Robot Suit HAL

The future is here.

  • “Robot Suit HAL” is a cyborg-type robot that can supplement, expand or improve physical capability. When a person attempts to move, nerve signals are sent from the brain to the muscles via motoneurons, moving the musculoskeletal system as a consequence. At this moment, very weak biosignals can be detected on the surface of the skin. “HAL” catches these signals through a sensor attached on the skin of the wearer. Based on the signals obtained, the power unit is controlled to move the joint in unison with the wearer’s muscle movement, enabling HAL to support the wearer’s daily activities. 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. Not only a ‘voluntary control system’ “HAL” has, but also a ‘robotic autonomous control system’ that provides human-like movement based on a robotic system which integrally work together with the ‘autonomous control system’. “HAL” is the world’s first cyborg-type robot controlled by this unique Hybrid System. “HAL” is expected to be applied in various fields such as rehabilitation support and physical training support in medical field, ADL support for disabled people, heavy labour support at factories, and rescue support at disaster sites, as well as in the entertainment field.
  • Exoskeletons Will Be the Eyeglasses of the 21st Century. Two recent articles, one from the New York Times and one from The Atlantic, point to a future less than a decade away where you will be in the shopping for the latest in cybernetic designs the way you shop for new glasses frames now.”