The Cyborg revolution marches inexhaustibly forward. Last Monday, the Cyberdyne company had three of its employees strut the streets of Tokyo in their cybernetically enhanced legs. The legs were part of HAL, or hybrid assisted limbs, the cyborg muscle enhancement suit we gushed over a few months back. These things are powerful and efficient. Watch them walk the walk in the NECN video after the break.
When you look at the employees walking in the video, notice how the operators seem to be neither leading nor following the exoskeleton. As we've said before, HAL is revolutionary because of its ability to read motor neuron impulses through the skin in order to move the exoskeleton with the operators thoughts. That's right, the suit can determine what muscles you'll move before the muscles know themselves. HAL is really merging man and machine to provide smooth and continuous movement with little worries for injury.
Cyberdyne is been up to a lot more in the past than taking a stroll down the lane. Personal trainer Takeshi Matsumoto used a HAL suit to carry Seiji Uchida up a Swiss mountain. Uchida, who is a quadriplegic, had long wanted to climb the mountain, and with some help from Matsumoto and HAL, he was able to get within 500 yards of the summit. Matsumoto's no wimp, but carrying someone up a mountain is something few of us would ever be able to accomplish without HAL's ability to amplify muscle strength by 2 to 10 times. The next step would be modifying HAL to read Uchida's motor impulses and allow him to operate the exoskeleton independently.
As always, information about the availability of HAL has been spotty. Cyberdyne originally thought that HAL might cost less than $1100 USD per month to rent and maybe as little as $5k to purchase. Recent rentals in Japan, however, have been reported at around $2000 per month. Cyberdyne is now quoting a purchase price closer to $20k. It's even unclear whether the Tokyo stroll was a marketing push to help renew interest in the exoskeleton. With a branch opening in the EU, Cyberdyne may be struggling to find the right market price to maximize its sales while still accomplishing its humanitarian goals of helping the disabled.
While Cyberdyne moves to get HAL out of the assembly line and into nursing homes, factories, and the great outdoors, I think we'll see more awareness raising displays of the technology. The walk was nice, but it was only half the suit, and I'd love to see footage of HAL in practical applications. In short, I'm getting impatient for the cyborg revolution. Keep up the good work, Cyberdyne, and if you're interested in having a blogger try out the suit...well, you just let me know. I'll be working on my swagger.