HAL-5 Exoskeleton To Carry Mountain Climber

HAL-5 (Hybrid Assistive Leg), the robotic exoskeleton developed to help humans lift and carry a greater load, will now help cary a Japanese quadtiplegic to the top of a moutain.

"We developed the exo-skeleton type power assist system to realize the walking aid for the gait disorder person. At the present time, HAL is state of the art power assist system in the world. Some sensors such as angle sensors, myoelectrical sensors, floor sensors etc. are adopted in order to obtain the condition of the HAL and the operator. All of the motordrivers, measurement system, computer, wireless LAN, and power supply are built in the backpack. Using the battery attached on the waist, HAL works as the complete wearable system."
Prof. Sankai, Univ. of Tsukuba / CYBERDYNE Inc

(HAL-5 endoskeleton system)

Seiji Uchida, paralyzed from the neck down as a result of a 1983 traffic accident, will take a cable car to a point close to the summit of Breithorn, a 1,164-metre Swiss peak. Alpine mountaineer Ken Noguchi will carry him to the top, with the assistance of the HAL-5 exoskeleton.

HAL provides enough additional strength to lift an additional eighty kilograms of weight. The trek is planned for this summer.

Robotic exoskeletons have played a part in science fiction stories for decades. In his 1968 novel A Specter is Haunting Texas, science fiction writer Fritz Leiber describes specialized exoskeletons used to help human beings who grew up under microgravity conditions survive on the Earth's surface:

This truly magnificient, romantically handsome, rather lean man was standing on two corrugated-soled titanium footplates. From the outer edge of each rose a narrow titanium T-beam that followed the line of his leg, with a joint (locked now) at the knee, up to another joint with a titanium pelvic girdle and shallow belly support. From the back of this girdle a T-spine rose to support a shoulder yoke and rib cage, all of the same metal. The rib cage was artistically slotted to save weight, so that curving strips followed the line of each of his very prominent ribs.

...The motors were controlled by myoelectric impulses from his ghost muscles transmitted by sensitive pickups buried in the foam-padded bands.
(Read more about the titanium exoskeleton)

Note that the 1968 fictional exoskeleton used myoelectric sensors in the bands holding the user to actuate movement, just like the 2006 real-life version.

Update: It turns out that Uchida was partly successful in making the climb:

But Uchida, who rode piggyback on a friend who was aided by a motorized exoskeleton, said he viewed getting to within 500 yards of the mountaintop as a triumph.

"Today ... I had the same feeling as when I saw the pictures of the Breithorn for the first time: I was overwhelmed," Uchida said after his return to a base station on the Klein Matterhorn.

Uchida said through an interpreter that he was grateful he "had the chance to realize my dreams of climbing it, thanks to the suit."
(Via Japanese quadriplegic partly succeeds in robot-assisted ascent of Swiss mountain)

They covered about two miles before having to turn back due to time considerations. End update.

See also the earlier article HAL-5 Robot Suit. Read more about robot suit to help quadriplegic scale the heights. Thanks to Winchell Chung for the tip and suggested sf references for the story.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 4/4/2006)

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