Make way for the cyborgs: robotic mobility devices

October 20th, 2008 by Julie Ferguson

We are totally fascinated with some of the assistive technologies that hold promise for the disabled to regain powers of mobility. We’ve previously discussed exciting developments in high tech wheelchairs and in July, we posted about a truly exciting development: an exoskeleton device from Israel called ReWalk, a light, wearable brace that holds promise for helping those paralyzed by spinal chord injuries to actually walk again. Quite astounding.

More recently, thanks to Medgadget, one of our favorite reads, we learned about another promising development in assistive mobility technology: HAL, the robot suit. HAL, which stands for Hybrid Assistive Limb, is currently being marketed in Japan in one- and two-legged models. These braces help people to walk by detecting electrical signals on the skin that are sent from the brain to the muscles, which then provide robotic assistance to people as they walk. You can learn more about HAL at the web site of the developer, Cyberdyne or check out this video issued as it was being developed – it looks like something out of a science fiction film. (ed. note: video updated with newer version)

Robotic suits or exoskeletons are an interesting area of technology to keep an eye in in terms of potential applications for the disabled. Unsurprisingly, much of the research in this area focuses on military applications so we may be seeing armies of cyborg-like soldiers with super-human strength. Ironically, warfare is often the spark for many developments in medical technologies.