Robots for the Elderly = Fukushima Repair operation? Necessity is the mother of invention


Please see this excerpt from the NYT.

Yoshiyuki Sankai, an engineering professor at University of Tsukuba near Tokyo, was similarly inspired to update one of his inventions after the tsunami. In his case, he transformed his Hybrid Assistive Limb, or HAL — a lower-body, robotic exoskeleton — so it could assist people working at radiation sites.

The original HAL, introduced in 2008, helps patients who can’t walk by monitoring the signals sent from their brains to their muscles. Sensors in HAL pick up these signals and then, essentially, walk for the person. The robot suit has been commercialized and is leased by hospitals and wellness centers in Japan.

Dr. Sankai was already working on other uses for HAL when he received a call last summer from a company involved in the cleanup of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, the site of the nuclear disaster resulting from the tsunami. Could HAL assist workers who had to wear incredibly heavy, anti-radiation tungsten vests at the site?

Less than three months later, Dr. Sankai had his answer: yes. “The principle behind the two suits is the same,” he said of the versions of HAL, describing the philosophical mission as “supporting and expanding the human ability.”

But in the new model, an upper-body frame supports the tungsten plates, which can weigh up to 132 pounds. Without that support, it would be hard for individuals to work in the suit for long stretches of time. “So now the worker doesn’t feel any weight,” he said.

The new HAL has received a patent but is still in the prototype stage and is being tested. Dr. Sankai says it will take an additional six or seven months of development before it’s ready for commercial use.”

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