Japanese robotics wizard Yoshiyuki Sankai invented his science fiction-inspired robotic exoskeletons to help disabled people, but a new model aims to speed up the clean-up at Fukushima. On Monday, Sankai unveiled a new version for his suit, the Hybrid Assistive Limb (code-named HAL, of course), that is designed to provide better shield against radiation and to help carry some of the load for the underpaid and under-protected recovery workers.
The Japanese government expects the nuclear disaster at Fukushima to cost $30 billion over the next 30 years, in part because cleanup workers can only work so many hours in the radioactive environment and are weighed down by 132-pound tungsten anti-radiation vests when they do.
“This new type of HAL robot suit supports the weight of tungsten-made protective clothing and enables their wearers to work on the site without feeling the burden,” Sankai’s company Cyberdyne — which is also the name of the robot corporation in the Terminator movies — said in a statement. “It is hoped that this will reduce risks of working under harsh environments and contribute to early restoration operations by humans in the wake of disasters.”
As futuristic as HAL looks, it’s been in development since 1997. After founding Cyberdyne in 2004, Sankai gave the first public demo of HAL in 2005 and began mass producing the suits in 2009, a milestone that was met by an explosion of international media attention. Sankai isn’t just in it for the press clippings, however. At about $14,000 to $19,000 per suit, the commercial versions are now used in 113 hospitals and welfare centers, by AFP’s count. An earlier model is pictured above. You can see the new suit here.
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