Posted by: robotnews | March 17, 2006

Assistive & Healthcare Robotics – Because Elderlies Deserve More…

U0205260 – Domingue Jean Michel David

(Apologies on the unoriginal innovative title and intro =P)

Have you read this post by Janesh on the Human Washing Machine? If you haven’t done so yet, I suggest that you click here and take a look. Go now – we’ll be waiting for you 😉

Yes you read right – a washing machine for humans. Adjusting the temperature of the water and releasing body shampoo, the cleansing action kicks in for the person to enjoy a bubbling bath.

The most useful application here is for elderlies and at the rate at which the population is aging, it is looking to be for everyone’s benefit – clever, practical and attractive automated and robotics products to help us age gracefully.

Which leads us nicely to the topic of robots at the service of elderlies. Assistive technology and healthcare robotics is fast becoming the future of elderly healthcare. As reported here, the Japanese are developing ultimate care givers for people. The application developed here is the robot suit “Hybrid Assistive Limbs (HAL)” and is aimed at helping elderly people with weak muscles or physical difficulties.

“HAL is state of the art power assist system in the world”

It looks like an armor, or “a motor-driven metal exoskeleton” and straps onto a person’s arms, legs and back. The system automatically adjusts itself to the wearer. How?

When anyone wants to move, stand or walk, electric current on the skin’s surface are generated when nerve signals are sent to the person’s muscles. These currents are picked up by the sensors – a bio-cybernic system consisting of bioelectronic sensors (angle sensors, myoelectrical sensors, floor sensors) is used here.

A computer (which, together with motordrivers, measurement system, wireless LAN, and power supply is carried as a backpack) receives these signals and translates them into signals of its own for controlling motors at the joints (hips and knees) of the exoskeleton. Coordination of further movements by the system is done using the known state of the suit and recorded patterns of the wearer.

The control system itself consists is a hybrid one with an autonomous controller (posture control) together with the power assist controller based on the biosensors input and predictive feedforward.

As shown in the picture, the student testing the suit can hold three packs of rice(!) but more importantly, the suit can give an average man twice as much strength – it allows “a person who can barely do an 176-pound leg press handle 397 pounds.”

Interestingly, “the motors respond faster to signals from the wearer’s brain than their own muscles”. As patients with brain and spinal injuries request for more of this new application, the developers are looking to include medical rehabilitation with the suit.

Click on the picture for a more detailed view. Read more about it here, here or here.

The market for assitive robotics is still very young and results have shown that robot technology in this area have greatly help to boost recovery of patients.

At the same time, it seems that in the quest for advancements in robotics, assistive and healtcare robotics is a good platform for such development. Alongside Medical robotics, assistive ability and learning to care for and help humans is an area where much higher level of automation can be developed and tested for robots.


  1. “As shown in the picture, the student testing the suit can hold three packs of rice(!) but more importantly, the suit can give an average man twice as much strength – it allows ‘a person who can barely do an 176-pound leg press handle 397 pounds.'”

    Maybe one day we can have a Robolympics Weightlifting competition or something! =p

  2. u0204438 Huang Shichao Alvin

    HAL sounds like it comes right out of a sci-fi novel about cyborgs and humans fighting in huge robotic exo-skeletons. (Robotech, anyone?) I guess a next possible enhancment for it would be to make use of Brain-Computer Interface (BCI) to control the robot. Non-invasive BCI, which at present makes use of an electrode-studded cap to monitor EM waves from your brain to decipher control signals, could turn HAL from being an armoured suit to a total replacement for the human body, especially for paralysed people who have lost the use of their muscles. However, given the state of today’s technology, I guess this is still some way in the future.

  3. human washing machine was previously posted on this blog before. repeat posts !!!

  4. Domingue Jean Michel David

    I know Human Washing Machine was posted before – I purposedly referred to it at the beginning of my post. Doh.

    It is not also the main topic of my post, its meant to intro the topic of robotics at the service of elderlies – one application being HAL.

  5. U0308345 Ng Sing Joo

    HAL, no doubt a very useful assistive robot, could be a double-edged sword as I think it can also produce very devasting effects to other people if the system should go into the wrong hands. Actually robotic inventions, although useful, can lead to other problems too. Should someone invent another more powerful robot that can stop HAL if it is put to wrong use? If we go further along this line, how can we stop this more powerful robot that counterchecks HAL when it goes wrong? Are we building machines that will eventually bring about our own downfall? Hmmm…..

  6. U0204912 Lin Zhiqiang

    The HAL reminds me of Robocop. I think it can be used for military applications as well to carry very heavy weapons and maybe even used to fight a war like a cyborg. Also can be used for rehabiliative training for those who are injured like soccer players who need to get back into fitness fast but should not exert too much lest they pull a muscle again.

  7. It an exo-skeletons if added with weapon it will become a military weapon. I still remember there was a toy that did something like this.Hope it will not be use for that. I wonder if it can be remote control also. It will e very useful for working in dangerous areas like space or deep sea.

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