Published April 10, 2009
In the movies, Cyberdyne is a corporation whose superintelligent computers lead to the fall of mankind in the "Terminator" series, and HAL is a superintelligent computer who takes over a spaceship in "2001: A Space Odyssey."
In real life, Cyberdyne is a Japanese robotics company, and HAL is Hybrid Assistive Limb, its full-body, "Iron Man"-like exoskeleton designed to help people with weak muscles or disabilities.
"When a person attempts to move, nerve signals are sent from the brain to the muscles via motoneuron (sic), moving the musculoskeletal system as a consequence," explains the English-language section of the Cyberdyne Web site. "At this moment, very weak biosignals can be detected on the surface of the skin. 'HAL' catches these signals through a sensor attached on the skin of the wearer."
Cyberdyne says the HAL-5 model weighs about 50 pounds, though it supports its own weight, and increases the wearer's strength up to 10-fold. It runs on battery power and can go nearly 3 hours before needing a recharge.
The U.S. military has been trying to develop robotic exoskeletons for decades to help soldiers carry heavy loads or move at high speeds.
But at a suggested retail price of about $4,000 (for Japanese residents only, and not yet available), the HAL "robot suit" may be the first aimed at civilians.