The prospect of slipping into a robotic exoskeleton that could enhance strength, keep the body active while recovering from an injury or even serve as a prosthetic limb has great appeal. Unlike the svelt body armor donned by Iron Man, however, most exoskeletons to date have looked more like clunky spare parts cobbled together.
Japan’s CYBERDYNE, Inc. is hoping to change that with a sleek, white exoskeleton now in the works that it says can augment the body’s own strength or do the work of ailing (or missing) limbs. The company is confident enough in its new technology to have started construction on a new lab expected to mass-produce up to 500 robotic power suits (think Star Wars storm trooper without the helmet) annually, beginning in October, according to Japan’s Kyodo News Web site.
CYBERDYNE was launched in June 2004 to commercialize the cybernetic work of a group of researchers headed by Yoshiyuki Sankai a professor of system and information engineering at Japan’s University of Tsukuba. Its newest product: the Robot Suit Hybrid Assistive Limb (HAL) exoskeleton, which the company created to help train doctors and physical therapists, assist disabled people, allow laborers to carry heavier loads, and aid in emergency rescues.