Tech journalist Evan Ackerman took a step into science-fiction, literally. At CES 2011, Evan became the first person in the US to try on a pair of cyber-trousers from the Japanese company called Cyberdyne, the same name as the fictional company that built the Terminators.
The exoskeleton is named HAL, or Hybrid Assistive Limb, and is controlled by thought. The suit is strapped to the waist and legs and sensors monitor electrical signals sent to the legs from the brain. Just as we don’t have to consciously think about taking a step, Evan didn’t have to consciously control the HAL. It just works. “Once I figured out how to stop trying to walk in the suit and just let the suit walk for me, the experience was almost transparent,” he said.
HAL is powered by small motors that assist the user. The military is, of course, interested, but medicine is another important use. Evan was using the suit on its lowest power-level (level one), and even then felt that it did all the work in taking him up a small flight of stairs. The suit goes up to level four, which could carry the weak and lame, or let people with injuries get around on their own feet.
Cyberdine also has a full body version, like the power-lifter in the movie Aliens, and the suits are in daily use in Japanese hospitals, leased for around $1700 per month. They are also finding their way into medical institutions around the world.
Cyberdine plans a rugged, weather-resistant version to allow injured or disabled people to do outdoor activities, and a new version coming later this year will have smaller and lighter batteries – the current model weighs around 10kg.