Tokyo (Japan) – Imagine effortlessly walking up stairs while carrying a hundred pounds. Well you don’t have to imagine anymore because a Japanese company will start leasing a powered exoskeleton that will amplify your strength. For just $2200 a month, you can own the Stormtrooper white Hybrid Assistive Limb (HAL) suit. Meant for elderly folks and the disabled, the suit promises to give mobility back to Japan’s aging population. The exoskeleton can even give the gift of walking back to people paralyzed from the waist down.
Created by Professor Yoshiyuki Sankai of Tsukuba University, the HAL suit converts brain signals sensed through the skin into motion. The entire unit weighs 22 lbs and the user belts himself/herself in via a waist strap. The suit works by augmenting regular muscle motion and wearers can easily lift or carry a hundred pounds. While this may not be a big deal for body builders, this is a huge win for a senior citizen out doing basic chores like yard work or shopping for groceries.
The suit has actually been demonstrated for several years as part of Sankai’s research at the university. In the following YouTube video, you can see the wearer hold three bags of rice and then doing squats while the reporter talks.
Unfortunately, Professor Sankai hasn’t decided on whether to sell the suit in the United States. Darnit why do the Japanese get all the cool toys. At first, 500 units will be leased for a five-year rental period and small, medium and large versions will be offered. There will even be a cheaper one-legged version sold for $1500/month.
Sankai adamantly refuses to build any units for the military, but there’s another company will gladly sell their suits to anyone. While Cyberdyne’s suit is certainly impressive, Berkeley Bionics in the United States is already working on its second generation exoskeleton suit for hikers, emergency/rescue personnel and military. The company originally showed off their exoskeleton back in 2005 and has steadily improved the design. Like the HAL, the contraption consists of leg braces, a 1.2 lbs battery and a microcomputer. There’s also a back frame for military style rucksacks.
The battery last for 42 miles or 21 hours of constant use and the wearer can carry up to 200 lbs. In the linked YouTube video, you’ll see a guy sprinting with 100 lbs on his back. He also walks effortlessly with 150 lbs.
The exoskeleton can be put on or taken off in seconds and the cool part is you can do all this yourself. Furthermore, the 31 lbs unit can be folded up and carried around on your back.
Two competing companies producing exoskeletons. Bring on the price war!!!