Why on Earth are Japanese airport employees sporting robotic suits? Well, back in 2004, a spin-off company called Cyberdyne began development of a robotic suit called HAL (short for Hybrid Assistive Limb). Basically, the suit is like a set of futuristic cyborg legs that let mere humans lift super-heavy loads.
It started off as an experiment, but since HAL's introduction into the robot world, the technology has really taken off. Now that the exoskeleton suit is past the prototype stage, Cyberdyne is exploring new ways to use it -- including a number of medical, industrial, and labor-oriented applications.
HAL works by feeding off a person's brain signals. When a person wants to move, the brain sends signals to the muscles which travel onto the skin's surface, according to Cyberdyne. HAL reads these "bio-electric signals" and moves with the body accordingly.
Now, workers at Haneda Airport in Tokyo will scurry around donning an updated version of the exoskeleton suit called the HAL for Labor Support. Japan Airport Terminal is introducing the HAL technology in order to solve labor issues caused by elderly employees and a declining labor population, according to Cyberdyne's website.
The entire device weighs just over six pounds and allows wearers to lift heavy loads while reducing the impact on his or her lumbar region. The wearer uses the suit's Cybernic Voluntary Control system, which enables it to adjust to different forms of work. It's battery-operated, too, and lasts up to three hours on a single charge, so employees can move around freely within the airport, and needn't be tethered to any sort of power source.
The suits can be rented on a monthly basis for $1,100, according to Cyberdyne's website. The airport will also implement Cyberdyne's transport robots and cleaning robots that are capable of riding the elevator and cleaning the floors with no human interference.
Japanese Airport Terminals is employing the futuristic robot technology as part of its vision for the future airport, making it an even more attractive place for travelers. Looks like Japan really is trying to create a next-generation workforce filled with robots.