A Robotic Exoskeleton Suit is Now Approved by the FDA

Saturday, 27 January 2018 - 12:30PM
Technology
Robotics
Saturday, 27 January 2018 - 12:30PM
A Robotic Exoskeleton Suit is Now Approved by the FDA
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Cyberdyne
Japanese robotics company Cyberdyne may share a name with the fictional company from Terminator that notoriously destroyed the world by creating Skynet. But the real version of Cyberdyne is much more helpful. For now, at least.

Because their biggest product right now is a robotic, exoskeletal suit for your lower body that moves by reading bioelectric signals sent from your brain, called the Hybrid Assistive Limb (shortened to HAL, another unfortunate naming coincidence). And it's on track to make its way into the United States, albeit only through medical facilities for the time being.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) just gave a go-ahead on a specific model called HAL for Medical Use - as the name implies, it's less of a recreational model and more designed to help people with lower body disabilities move around easier.

But what makes HAL different from other exoskeletons is its autonomy. Using a mix of voluntary control and autonomous control, HAL can use sensors on your legs to pick up on bioelectric signals and use that as a means of determining how to move forward. For the large amount of medical conditions where a disability in the lower body involves leg muscles failing to respond to signals from the brain, this is extremely useful.



As the brain sends signals to the legs, which are then picked up by HAL, which makes the desired movements, this can potentially speed up the process that medical patients with disabilities learn to walk again. Ideally, the HAL exoskeleton will only be necessary for a certain amount of time before the patient no longer needs the assistance, although at least in the United States, this is all just on paper so far.  

Calling it an "interactive biofeedback loop" between HAL and wearer's brain, Cyberdyne goes on to say:

Opening quote
"This repeated movement strengthens and adjusts the connections between the neurons in the brain and spinal cord and the connections between the neurons and muscles, promoting improvement and regeneration of physical functions."
Closing quote


Perhaps more so than other exoskeletons, and that pool of competition is growing steadily, HAL is almost a genuine extension of your legs. Other exoskeletons from companies like Lockheed Martin and Ford are useful for augmenting strength, but they lack the robotic component that HAL has, which can much more efficiently move in sync with your body.

In fact, this sounds more like an external cyborg attachment, and thankfully a noninvasive one. If this is how humanity gradually moves more into cyborg technology, this is a fairly beneficial way to do so, although Cyberdyne's non-medical HAL for Living Support is currently not FDA approved.

So until that changes, not just anybody can get to be an early cyborg.
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