Posted by: robotnews | March 24, 2007

Hybrid Assistive Limb (HAL)

Written by Choo Liang Kwang (U046028R)

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.

This assistive robot has been invented in 2005, and it has the potential to help older people or those with disabilities to walk or lift heavy objects.

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’…

Reference
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Responses

  1. Filip Wistrand NT061734
    Wow this is so cool. Makes me think of all the science fiction movie with cyborgs and construction robots leke those from the alien movies.

    The potential of this suite is great. Thinking of construction workers saving their backs and limbs from doing the heaviest lifts. Police forces could have use of the extra power when controlling crowds at soccer games or other incidents. Fire fighters could use it when rescuing people. I suppose its also possible to use the control system in the suite for remotecontrol of human like robots.

  2. This invention is amazing but i think it will definitely be a controlled item like firearms. I think this is so because we have to look at the other side of things – Like how police can use it to help them in their missions, this invention can also help robbers or terrorists commit crime.

    Like Spiderman’s uncle once said, “With great power comes great responsibility” and not everyone has that responsibility to use it for good deeds.

  3. Leaw Tiew Liang U036391E

    This invention is amazing but i think it will definitely be a controlled item like firearms. I think this is so because we have to look at the other side of things – Like how police can use it to help them in their missions, this invention can also help robbers or terrorists commit crime.

    Like Spiderman’s uncle once said, “With great power comes great responsibility” and not everyone has that responsibility to use it for good deeds.

  4. Tan Shunpeng u0307572@nus.edu.sg

    This is really a great invention for those who need walking aids especially old people. However, the price is rather expensive and will not be affordable to many. More research can be done in trying to achieve the same operational effectiveness using cheaper components.

  5. Choo Liang Kwang U046028R

    —Replies to comments—
    Yes, I agree there’s lots of potential for this robot. Perhaps in the future, they will be able to make things lighter and less bulky, but with equivalent or even more power…

    True, everything can become weapons nowadays… But I wonder, if something is restricted, will that hinder further developments? Hmm…

    And yes, I agree that pricing is high. Maybe, when the product is out, and there is high demand, prices will go down? But high prices will perhaps let people think twice about buying these robots to do bad things…

  6. I simply adore robotic inventions which aid in the better of human lives.

    You mentioned something about aiding old people who have difficulty in walking. That indeed. But the question of possible overdependence immediately comes to my mind — whilst the HAL conducts itself as a therapy utility, might it perhaps unknowingly take over full control and thus depriving the user of its necessary strain for muscle development?

    However, like what Filip has mentioned, the potential of this invention should not be constrained within the box of aiding old people to walk, but explored in giving people the superhuman strength needed to do blue collared labour.

    Chew Yiping U036736A

  7. Hi, this robot suit is truly a representation of mecha robots of Japan. Looks awesome from outside. As mentioned, the potential of HAL is limitless. One thing that differs between HAL and those seen on TV(because they are for TV) is definitely the mobility. Perhaps HAL can be developed using lighter material.

    The debate is on whether these robots are suitable for consumer or should they be limited to institutions. In my opinion, it is still a long way before society accepts these robots in their lives. Even Sony has stopped the production of Aibo. In the event that we have come to accept these high tech consumer robots, think it shouldn’t be a problem. I can give you a knife and yet reasonable people wouldn’t harm someone with it. Thanks.

    Rgds,
    Ng Chin Ling (U047690E)

  8. Jin Peng

    U036569E

    I saw the presentation of this robot on the news about 2 years ago before it became commercial product. The advancement of Japanese robotic research really shocked me that moment.

    However, I personally believe that the success of this robotic application will very much depend on how effective the neuro-signal processing is. Since the robotic device will aid human by sensing the electric pulse transimitted from the brain to the muscle, the accuracy of this sensing and processing of signal is crucial for the performance of the robot. I believe the neuro-signal sensed from human skin will be very small. Under noises in the surrounding, it could be possible that the device perform certain action without assuring that this is the accurate signal given by the human brain.


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