Open the Refrigerator Door, HAL

We had to do a double take when we saw that a company called Cyberdyne recently demonstrated a "cyborg-type" "robot suit." Our double take was quickly followed by yet another double take (would that be a quadruple take?) when we saw that Cyberdyne was calling the robot suit, "HAL."

(For those who are missing the Sci-Fi cultural references: Cyberdyne was the name of the fictional company from the Terminator movies that eventually gives rise to the artificial intelligence and cyborgs that nearly wipe out humanity; and the HAL 9000 was the fictional, artificial-intelligence-based computer from 2001: A Space Odyssey that commits murder in order to preserve the integrity of its mission. We're guessing that the real Cyberdyne chose these names consciously in a tip-of-the-hat to these science fiction classics. But we're not so sure the irony of referencing movies where technology acts out against humans is perhaps the approach for an assistive technology... But we digress...)

 Credit: Cyberdyne
Cyberdyne is a "venture firm" that was established in 2004 to commercialize the developments of University of Tsukuba professor, Yoshiyuki Sankai, who has been working with robots since 1992. HAL stands for "Hybrid Assistive Limb," and is wearable robot designed to "expand and improve physical capability."

"HAL is expected to be applied in various fields such as rehabilitation support and physical training support in medical field, ADL support for disabled people, heavy labour support at factories, and rescue support at disaster sites, as well as in the entertainment field."

According to Cyberdyne's Website, the HAL-5 Type-B comes in two configurations: a full-body type (weighing approximately 51 pounds) and a lower-body type (about 33 pounds). (The Associated Press reports that the lower-body suit weighs 22 pounds and that the full-body unit is not available yet.) The company states that when you wear the suit, it doesn't "feel heavy, because its exoskeleton supports its own weight." Cyberdyne claims that the suit can "multiply the [wearer's] original strength by a factor of 2 to 10." The lower-body unit was recently demonstrated at the company's headquarters in Tsukuba, Japan, and will be available for rent in Japan for $2,200 per month starting this Friday. The unit is battery powered with an estimated continuous run time of about 2 hours and 40 minutes.

The HAL suit works by monitoring the nerve impulses from the surface of the skin, and then interprets and translates the signals into physical movements. The HAL suit's movements occur "a fraction of a section earlier than the muscles actually move." Essentially, the device reads your mind.

While the possible uses for such the HAL suit are boundless, the Associated Press reports that "Sankai said the HAL technology is devoted to social welfare purposes only, adding he has refused requests from military officials to share it." The Cyberdyne site further states that "currently HAL is used by people with weakened muscles and by some people with disabilities due to stroke and/or spinal cord injury."

Kudos to Sankai and Cyberdyne for developing a mind-reading technology that can help make the injured and elderly more mobile. But did the company have to beat us over the head with the implication that one day our own technological creations might try to kill us? Perhaps the company's next robot model will be called Caprica-Six?
Tags:  HAL, pen, Open, door, Tor