Human beings have used technology to extend their physical capabilities since the first stone tools, but the bionic man is no longer just a sci-fi dream. Meet five exoskeletons which let paraplegics walk again, extend the endurance of soldiers and keep workers safe in a damaged nuclear power plant.
Human Universal Load Carrier (HULC)
HULC is a hydraulic-powered exoskeleton developed by Lockheed Martin which allows a soldier to carry loads of up to 200lb (91kg) for 20km across any type of terrain. Power is still an issue though since the battery only lasts a few hours.
The Department of Veterans Affairs reports that the most prevalent service-connected disabilities are musculoskeletal system injuries.
Claire Lomas wears the ReWalk
It took Claire Lomas 17 days to complete the London marathon. The twist? Lomas is paralyzed from the chest down and walked the entire course wearing the ReWalk exoskeleton from Argo Medical Technologies. ReWalk users, most of whom never expected to take another step, can stand, sit, walk and climb stairs. The suit is controlled via shifts in the user’s center of gravity, somewhat like riding a Segway. The ReWalk costs 52,500 EUR in Europe and should be available next year in the U.S.
Source: Argo Medical Technologies
Exohand from Festo
Festo's multi-tasking Exohand can be used remotely as as a standard robotic arm or worn like a glove to amplify the strength of the user's fingers.The elderly, stroke victims and industrial workers are possible beneficiaries.
Eight double-acting pneumatic (air-powered) actuators move the robotic fingers which mirror the full range of motion of the human hand.
Hybrid Assistive Limb (aka HAL)
Cyberdyne's HAL exoskeleton was first developed as a walking aid but after the Fukushima nuclear disaster the company created a modified version to keep workers safe in a damaged nuclear power plant. The suit's Tungsten shielding reduces radiation exposure by about 50 percent and a cooling system prevents heatstroke. HAL detects electrical signals sent from the brain to muscles via sensors on the skin and makes the intended movement, making it the ultimate mind-controlled device.
University of Tokyo’s Muscle Suit
If you are looking for a low-cost option, the University of Tokyo has developed an upper body exoskeleton which it claims will be commercially available this year for under $200 a month.The suit uses simple pneumatic artificial muscles, contracted using air, to lift weights of up to 50 kg. The suit itself weighs just 9 kg making it considerably lighter than your average exoskeleton.
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