I typed "assistive robot" at youtube, and it gave me this interesting video. Take a look at this Hybrid Assistive Limb (opens in a new window) , or HAL, as the creator called it.
HAL is created by Professor Yoshiyuki Sankai of the University of Tsukuba in Japan. He has integrated mechanics, electronics, bionics and robotics in a new field known as cybernics.
See the picture on the left. HAL is able to assist a person even when walking on stairs, and the latest HAL 5 is able to assist the arms in carrying heavy things.
HAL is controlled by neuro-signals. The system consists of bio-sensors placed on the surface of limbs that will sense the electric pulses that is transmitted from the brain to the muscle, and move the motor parts for that area. That translates to the wearer of the system doing less work than normal. Also, due to the fact that the system is able to react faster than the human muscles do (time needed for muscle to react to the signal), the person will not feel like he is trying to move a heavy limb.
Also, the system is able to 'learn' how the wearer moves. The initial run, the system records the person's posture and pattern motion in its database so that they can be use to better assist the person in future movements.
This system has alot of potential. I list them out here:
- rehabilitation purposes, to help people recover from lost muscle functions
- search and rescue missions, and applications where strength is required
- military applications, so that soldiers will be less tired
- with brain-computer interfacing, even people who has lost their limbs can use this system to aid in movement.
- many many more (can't think of any now. Any suggestions?)
I think this assistive limb is still not available commercially, but a website has estimated the price to be between $14 to 19k.
I think this is a very nice innovation, as it can help alot of people in their daily activities. However, what will this world be like if everyone wears one? Imagine people running around in these 'power suits'...