Giving People A Leg Up - HAL Can Do That, Actually
Japanese company's Hybrid Assistive Limb (HAL) may give those with mobility disorders the chance to scale mountains.
Cyberdyne, a Japanese robotics venture, has come up with a way to give true mobility back to those that either can't walk or are limited by a condition that affects their limbs. The HAL is designed to strap on to the body, read muscle impulses, and then generate both stability and power to help a person get from point A to point B.
The hope is that it will help those who can't move around never again have to say "I can't do that."
For Seiji Uchida, who has been unable to walk for 27 years following a serious car accident, the HAL represents potential freedom. In 2006, Uchida and members of the Cyberdyne team attempted to climb Breithorn peak in Switzerland using earlier versions of the HAL, but with limited success.
Now, four years later, Uchida is set to try again, this time on the tidal island of Mont Saint-Michel in Normandy. The island includes a steep and rocky trail up to an abbey, and is a world historic site. Uchida is determined to prove that just because he can't walk under his own power, that doesn't mean that he can't walk at all, or access some of the most interesting places in the world.
The HAL has come a long way, and now a Tsukuba University professor, Yoshiyuki Sankai, is developing a full-body version of the suit that will let users lift objects of up to 154 pounds using only one arm.
As mentioned, the technology operates on the premise that the HAL can detect and anticipate muscle movements from a user, then respond smoothly and with the support needed to carry out the action desired. While it appears that Cyberdyne has had some success in this area, the 2006 adventure shows that more work is necessary.
This is a good thing - failure drives this type of industry as much as success, and the prospects for the HAL sound bright. Questions remain, however, about the HAL failing and just how spectacularly bad that would be, say on top of a mountain, and of course how this technology will be used to "augment" those who have no mobility restrictions.
We've all seen Robocop. We know how this plays out.
Still, this is one HAL of an idea.