Over the years, we’ve seen plenty of exoskeleton-type robot suits designed to give superhuman strength to mere humans, but – until now – none has been available to buy.
The first power suit that we’re aware of to make it to market comes from Cyberdyne (no, not that one) in Japan and is known as HAL, or Hybrid Assistive Limb. That assistance promises to boost the strength of anyone wearing it up to ten-fold.
From October, the university-based firm will crank out up to 500 HAL suits every year with a view to helping disabled people, rescue workers and even construction and factory workers manage what they previously could not.
HAL is based on sensors that detect the body’s electrical impulses intended to instruct muscles to move. When for example, it senses the wearer lifting an arm, it moves the appropriate robotic arm joints to amplify the intended movement mechanically.
The result is better walking ability for patients with muscular dystrophy, the power to lift massive loads on a rescue mission after a disaster or even just to climb otherwise impossible stairs, for starters.
Climb every mountain
HAL’s rechargeable battery lasts five hours and the suit can work indoors and out, although Cyberdyne currently recommends against outdoor use for safety reasons. Still, the suit has been up mountains and through snowdrifts in tests.
Naturally, gear like HAL doesn’t come cheap – Cyberdyne plans to charge around £500 to individual users for a month’s rental and twice that to medical organizations wishing to use the exoskeleton.
Although it’s currently available only in Japan, HAL will make the leap to Europe before long – Cyberdyne has already opened an EU office in Amsterdam.
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J Mark Lytle was an International Editor for TechRadar, based out of Tokyo, who now works as a Script Editor, Consultant at NHK, the Japan Broadcasting Corporation. Writer, multi-platform journalist, all-round editorial and PR consultant with many years' experience as a professional writer, their bylines include CNN, Snap Media and IDG.