A Japanese robotics company has gained approval from the American Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to begin offering its HAL (Hybrid Assistive Limb) lower-body exoskeleton to patients.
The somewhat suspiciously named “Cyberdyne” is offering its equally suspiciously named HAL exoskeleton to people with lower limb disabilities in the hope it will allow them to get better at walking on their own.
HAL is essentially a walking robot which you strap to your legs. Sensors on the rig are then attached to your leg muscles to detect bioelectric signals (the signals sent from your brain to your muscles telling them to move). This allows the exoskeleton to know when to assist you; powering up to enhance your strength and stability.
While there are existing exoskeletons on the market which can help rehabilitate people through physical walking motions, HAL is unique because it mixes voluntary and autonomous control. Relying on the users own nervous system to signal the robot when and how to move.
The team of engineers at Cyberdyne think this makes the rehabilitation process more effective as it’s not just the robot moving— it’s you.