A robotic suit that can assist the elderly and the disabled to stand and move around has received a global safety certificate late last month, fuelling hopes for a quick global rollout.
Called the HAL, short for Hybrid Assistive Limb, the pair of “legs” can be appended to the legs of a disabled or aged person, helping him move around like a normal person. The artificial limb has been developed by Japanese robot-maker Cyberdene, which in the past has made similar robotic arms too.
The robotic suit could be a boon for the healthcare industry around the world
The HAL has become the first nursing-care robot certified under the draft standard, according to a ministry for the economy, trade and industry in Japan. Based on the draft version of an international safety standard for personal robots that is expected to be approved later this year, the certificate was issued by a quality assurance body.
This artificial limb opens up a whole new world of opportunity for the disabled to move around the world, but for now it will be used for a more noble use – helping patients rehabilitate from intractable nerve and muscle illnesses. According to the Asahi Shimbun, the robot suit HAL will be used by ten Japanese hospitals in the world’s first clinical trial of the kind this month.
The suit works in a great way. It uses sensors to detect muscle impulses and weak electric biosignals produced by patients’ brains. It then determines which muscles need to be moved and uses small power units to help assist movement.
The clinical test in Japan will be conducted on 30 adults where researchers and doctors will be checking the suit's effectiveness in recovering walking abilities of a patient, indicating that the suit will be used as a kind of a crutch instead of a permanent solution.
Cyberdyne is based in Tsukuba, northeast of Tokyo and has rented out approximately 330 suits to about 150 hospitals and welfares amongst other facilities in the country for 178,000 Yen (Rs 107,250 approximately) since 2010.
Cyberdyne also plans to sell these suits in Europe soon.
On a side note, Cyberdyne is not to be confused with the firm of the same name in the Terminator series of movies and HAL isn’t to be confused with the evil supercomputer from Stanley Kubric’s “2001:A Space Odyssey”.
Japan is a technologically rich country and has employed industrial robots for the longest times. It was only a matter of time before robotic suits made their way into the healthcare industry. Critics have pointed out that the Japanese government has been slow in creating safety framework for healthcare robots; it’s a great headstart.
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