In a few years’ time, we may look back at April 2008 as the time when robots first started becoming useful in making humankind more mobile. Last week we had HAL, the robotic exoskeleton and today we get news of a similar device from Honda.

The ‘walking assist device’ (Honda’s lowercase letters, not ours) is the first useful fruit of the Asimo project and consists of a mechanical contraption that straps around the waist and to the thighs. Of course, if you count billion-dollar robots serving tea on trays as useful, then it’s the second.

Getting a leg up

Sensors and a central processor measure flexion in the hip joints to work out what the wearer is trying to achieve and then instruct motors to deliver power to the limbs to help them get there.

In practice, that means a stronger stance and a firmer, longer stride; something many infirm walkers will clearly relish. Honda says the device is for people still able to walk and that it is not yet ready for anyone with more serious disabilities.

The 2.8kg machine will go on show at the BARRIER FREE 2008 exhibition in Osaka this weekend, where Honda is planning on offering demonstrations to anyone interested in sampling the future.