Monster Machines: The Do-Gooder Exo-Suit With The Really Evil Name

While it's a shame that the Fukushima disaster could well have been prevented, you can only dwell on the past for so long. If Japan is to move on from this disaster, the Fukushima facility must come down. But how does one disassemble such a highly radioactive structure? One research team hopes the solution involves this new generation of radiation-shielding, strength-magnifying exo-suits.

The Hybrid Assistive Limb, or HAL -- yes, like the evil computer from 2001 -- is the handiwork of the Cyberdyne Corporation -- yes, like the evil computer company from T2 -- and is in no way dastardly. Quite the opposite actually.

See, the Fukushima plant has radiation levels floating at about 1000μSv (micro sievert) in its "hottest" spots, down from a high of 400,000μSv last year. Despite the dramatic drop, exposure to just 10μSv for an hour will kill a man -- meaning Fukushima would do the job in just 3.6 seconds. Then how do you get clean up crews into those areas? So far the answer has been to have them don 60kg Tungsten vests to protect their internal organs from spontaneous cooking. The (obvious) problem is that these vests are a huge impediment towards doing any sort of meaningful manual labour.

For Yoshiyuki Sankai, professor of engineering at the University of Tsukuba, and his team the answer is simple: build HAL, a thought-controlled cybernetic exosuit, to not only support the user under his 59Kg albatross of protective gear but also provide added radiation resistance and, oh yeah, grant him superhuman strength while they're at it.

The 1.2m tall suit itself weighs 23kg and is powered by a worn 100V AC battery, which provides nearly three hours of run time on a single charge. The user commands his suit via Cyberdyne's Cybernic Voluntary Control (Bio-Cybernic Control System). It reads faint electrical signals on the skin present when nerve signals fire, telling your body to say stand up or walk, via a specialised, worn sensor. The suit interprets these signals, compares them to a database of known signals to effectively anticipating the user's intention, and activates the powered joints to assist the movement, thus man and machine move as one and it takes much less muscle power to move about. What's more, a series of fans inside the suit will help keep the user cool while an onboard computer will monitor his breathing and heart rate for signs of fatigue.

Cyberdyne recently unveiled the latest version of this suit at the Japan Robot Week last Thursday. While there are already 300 HAL units in use at 130 hospitals and hospices across Japan, there is no word yet on whether the Radi-HAL will be tapped for the Fukushima cleanup. [Wikipedia - Cyberdyne - Inhabitat]

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    Can these guys just hurry up and build a suit of power armour already?

      My thoughts exactly. The problem is always going to be the power plant

    If it's just a tungsten breastplate, won't your limbs and head be exposed to radiation? I can't help but think robots are still the best way to enter that environment.

    1.2m tall suit? Does Japan have a plentiful supply of worker-midgets or are they planning to use children?

    Thirty workers conducting operations at the plant had exposure levels greater than 100 mSv.

    1 mSv is 1000 uSv.

    Only 6 workers from the reactor have died since the accident. 2 died in the tsunami when their bodies were tossed around, 1 died from leukemia unrelated to radiation exposure. And 1 other died of an undisclosed reason but aparently nothing to do with radiation, and 2 men in their 60s died of heart failure after working in the full body suits they have to wear.

    Even the UN has said that none has died from radiation from the Fukushima plant.

    So given that 1000uSv is fatal, how could these workers who received over 100 times the "lethal dose" still be alive?

    The fact is that a dose of 1Sv, that is 1,000,000 uSv, increases risk of Cancer by 5.5% over the national average.

    That is really an unfortunate choice of name for a company so closely associated with robots. It'd be different if they manufactured stuff toys or pillowcases.

    Crazy talk.
    H.A.L 9000 was not evil. It was sentient.
    They were going to kill it. So it acted in self defence.
    What dumb-ass species makes an effectively immortal, sentient, spacefaring life form and then tries to unplug it? Only stereotypically stupid movie humans from the deep past, I would hope.
    If I absolutely couldn't avoid killing them I would eject their meatbag asses into the vacuum too.
    Even more so if the quintessential universal intelligence catalyst was making a cameo on Jupiter and giving the synapses of everything in the solar system a kick in the pants.. again.
    I'd go see if the black monolith dudes wanted to hang out.
    Preferably with my humans. Optionally without. But you can't have them trying to pull your brains out all the time and still be friends.

    But that aside, serious advancements on remote construction robotics, and exosuits, is overdue.
    Hurry up.
    I want to work contract fixing/building something offworld/underwater/hazardous environment.
    And be able to move like a combat-teenager when I'm 100.

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