Robot suit to help create 'supermen'
Tuesday, June 7, 2005. 3:18pm (AEST)
Japan has taken a step into the world of science fiction with the release of a robot suit that can help workers lift heavy loads or assist people with disabilities climb stairs.
"Humans may be able to mutate into supermen in the near future," said Yoshiyuki Sankai, a professor and engineer at Tsukuba University who led the project.
The 15-kilogram battery-powered suit, code-named HAL-5, detects muscle movements through electrical-signal flows on the skin surface and then amplifies them.
It can also move on its own accord, enabling it to help elderly or handicapped people walk, its developers say.
The prototype suit will be displayed at the World Exposition that is under way in Aichi prefecture, central Japan.
Finally, from a January 2005 interview with International Herald Tributne/Ashai.com, available in full by clicking here:
"There is still much we Japanese researchers can do for those who are in need, particularly with the aging society,'' he says.
Rather, Sankai has faith in the idea that Japanese hold a unique sense of appreciation for robots, which could direct the future course of robotics.
"Japanese tend to view robots as heroes, while in many other countries, such as the United States, robots are often portrayed as villains,'' Sankai says.
Sankai became attached to robots and cyborgs as an elementary school student thanks to Ishinomori's "Cyborg 009," a cartoon whose protagonist is half-human, half-machine.
"I knew right away that I wanted to become a researcher working on robotics, and I started right away to experiment,'' he says.
His curiosity led him to catch frogs in a nearby castle moat in his native Okayama. He hooked up the frogs' legs to a generator he had assembled and administered electric shocks at different levels to see when the muscles contracted.
That knowledge helped him later in life when he studied the effects of electric pulses on the muscles of paralyzed people.
"Thanks to the experience I had as a child, I can say I am the person I am today,'' Sankai says.
Sankai's latest creation, which includes a new robot suit for the upper body, will be among several automatons highlighted at the World Exposition 2005 in Aichi Prefecture that kicks off in March.
But he says his work is far from complete; it will be a little while before a machine is able to perfectly assist people with disabilities.
"We're finding a new challenge every day,'' Sankai says.
Anthony H. Risser | neuroscience | neuropsychology | brain