Japanese company Cyberdyne announced today an improved version of HAL (Hybrid Assistive Limb), the exoskeleton which we wrote about almost two years ago, when a tech journalist took a few steps at CES 2011 wearing the brain-controlled cyber-trousers.

The latest version of HAL has remained brain-controlled but evolved to a full body robot suit that protects against heavy radiation without feeling the weight of the suit. Eventually it could be used by workers dismantling the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant.

The new type of HAL is on display today at the Japan Robot Week exhibition in Tokyo. It will be used by workers at nuclear disaster sites and will be field tested at Fukushima, where a tsunami in March 2011 smashed into the power plant, sparking meltdowns that forced the evacuation of a huge area of northeastern Japan.

HAL – coincidentally the name of the evil supercomputer in Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” – has a network of sensors that monitor the electric signals coming from the wearer’s brain. It uses these to activate the robot’s limbs in concert with the worker’s, taking weight off his or her muscles.

Yoshiyuki Sankai, professor of engineering at the University of Tsukuba, said this means the 60-kilogramme (130-pound) tungsten vest workers at Fukushima have to wear is almost unnoticeable. He said the outer layer of the robot suit also blocks radiation, while fans inside it circulate air to keep the wearer cool, and a computer can monitor their heart-rate and breathing for signs of fatigue.


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The robot is manufactured by Cyberdyne, a company unrelated to the fictional firm responsible for the Terminator in the 1984 film of the same name.

Inventor Eiji Koyanagi of the Chiba Institute of Technology said the devices could be deployed very close to the damaged reactor core at Fukushima.

“We have to think of ways to protect nuclear workers, otherwise Fukushima won’t be sorted out,” he said, although even with working in exoskeletons the deactivation of the damaged power plant is expected to take several decades.

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  • Miracles

    Cyberdyne?  HAL?  srsly??

  • Miracles

    Cyberdyne?  HAL?  srsly??

  • Victor Craig

    Curiously the device has a military/police body armor look about it, and not sure why the subject wore a gas mask either. Probably to sell it to the military, or a movie producer, ha ha Cyberdyne, LOL!  I hope it will actually be used by the retiree’s, terminally ill, and death row volunteers that will actually be the ones cleaning up the Fukushima disaster sites.

  • Xhaleon

    Hey wait a minute. That metal chestplate is NOT part of the normal Japanese radiation suits. I googled for those, and they are the white flexible coveralls only that can be also seen worn by the HAL wearer.

    Something is not right with this design, it doesn’t make sense to me.

    You’re trying to make a brand new suit for radiation disposal. Logic tells me you’d want to cover up as much of the person as possible so his nuts don’t boil. There’s no sense in protecting the torso with a giant tungsten chestplate with 3-inch-thick upturned pauldrons if the wearer is just going to get brain cancer instead. The crotch plate doesn’t even wrap around the bottom.

    The current radsuit has the same problem, but now you’re trying to fix it and you create this kind of design instead of a fully enclosed hard suit.

    Just look at the design and the monochrome diagram in the last image. That is undeniably COMBAT armor. I think that the Japanese government is just using radiation disposal as a cover for powered armor R&D.

  • Dfd

    I think the chest plate and pauldrons are for housing the suits electrical components, notice the mechanically assisted legs and also the mention of a computer and also the mention of fans, also aesthetics sell. 

  • Xhaleon

    Maybe. The original HAL suit had a very small power pack, but this heavy thing would require a larger power source. Aesthetics do sell, but I would prefer to err on the side of “form follows function”.

    Not that I’m looking at this in alarm, mind. I actually do want the Japanese to be doing something cool with this. They need all the technological advantage they can get with the JSDF.

  • Doomguyjack

    Unfortunately, radiation exposure to your chest, particularly your thyroid gland, is quite deadly.  Protecting your torso is of the utmost importance when in a contaminated area.  Ever remember wearing a lead apron at the dentist?  The coveralls you are referring to are primarily to prevent contaminants from coming out of your work area with you, thus contaminating other areas.  Current radiation suits provide little protection from direct exposure.  This plate does.  But encasing the entire worker in tungsten is impractical as very little work can be done if you are wearing a tank on your arms / legs.  This suit is far from perfect, but every bit of protection is good.

    As for your assertion that this is obviously combat armor, tungsten is surpassed in ballistic protection by several other materials, many of these are also lighter.  However few materials outside of lead have the density required to prevent penetration by gamma particles.  Tungsten is one.

    If you are concerned about this being used for military purposes, japan has already been beaten by the united states’ “Warfighting Laboratory” in Quantico, Virginia.  Look up their exoskeleton prototype.  It’s a fascinating read.

  • Doomguyjack

    Breathing in contaminated particles is a very fast way to die.  The density of your skin and flesh provide your internal organs limited, but still some, protection from harmful radiation exposure.  By breathing in or eating the particles that are emitting the radiation, you put a radiation source directly inside the core of your body.  A gas mask (witch you dispose of once you have finished your work) offers you outstanding protection from this type of problem, but is a far cry from complete protection on its own.

  • Xhaleon

     Oh hello there doomguy.

    Yeah, your torso houses most of your important stuff for living, it makes sense to protect it first. However, I disagree with the “tank” statement. That’s what the exoskeleton is for; to give the user the ability to wear that tank while actually being stronger than a real person. It doesn’t have to be as thick as the torso piece, just thick enough to be a perfect seal.

    Then I get back to the pauldrons. Someone on here pointed out that they may be power sources, and I think that’s a compelling assessment. Still, wouldn’t it be better to form them around the neck then, if they have no trouble making them so fancy?

    As for materials, this is a demonstration prototype for the radworker community. It would be trivial to use the design as a base for ceramic / composite armor.

    And I’m not concerned, I think its great that they MIGHT be pushing fast towards powered armor. They don’t have very many young people to work with in conflict and they have the economic power to back it. Might as well make each soldier more valuable.

    Really, I’d be surprised if they weren’t already pushing some funding to Cyberdyne for combat armor, even if armor is a spinoff of a genuine civilian radsuit.

  • changling

    A more advanced variation of drone controllers only with the use of controlling exoskeletons. Interesting.

  • Dave Nephilly

    I spent 10 years in the Military and there where always military magazines in the common areas. These magazines would show new ideas that were being tried out or new weapon concepts. Well one story i read was about this armor suit that would allow Infantry to go long distances, lift heavy objects without using its own muscles. This suit is identical to that story i was reading. I think Xhaleon is dead on with his comment, this is military armor!

  • Christopher Forsyth

    Alternatively, maybe they’re some sort of structural elements to the frame and suit, meant to protect the worker from debris strikes with radiation protection as a bonus (and a reason why that material was chosen rather than something more armoring? Then again, in that case there should be some thigh, shin, and arm plates as well.

  • Harshad Srinivasan

    Whatever happens, we deserve it…

  • HerpDerpDurrr

    Get out of here, Stalker.

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