Tokyo students design a new robotic muscle suit

The new suit could be out next year and assists the back with heavy lifting

Students at Tokyo's University of Science have developed a new version of their muscle suit, a wearable robotic suit that assists the muscles when carrying out strenuous tasks.

The original version of the suit, which has been in production for several years, provides assistance to the arms and back but the new version provides assistance to the back only. That means it is lighter and more compact than the original model.

In a demonstration on Wednesday at the International Robot Exhibition in Tokyo, a student wearing the suit was able to bend down and lift 15 kilograms of weights with the assistance of the robotic suit.

Doing so without assistance would be difficult for many people and could cause injury to some.

The university is still developing the suit and the model demonstrated on Wednesday was the first prototype. A production version is due some time in 2010.

With its greater assistance the original version of the suit will remain the most useful for heavier tasks.

In a demonstration of that model on Wednesday a student was asked to carry 10-kilogram bags of rice. With the suit switched off he could manage up to three bags before they started to get too heavy to carry, but with the suit switched on another two bags could be loaded into his arms.

He quickly dropped the bags when the suit was switched off as without assistance it was too much weight to carry.

Such suits are being developed with an eye on assisting the physically challenged and workers carrying out physically demanding jobs.

Earlier this year Toyota Motor unveiled similar robot-assisted suits and has been testing them at factories in Japan with workers who have to lift large or heavy sheets of metal or car parts.

Tags Japanrobotics

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Martyn Williams

IDG News Service

12 Comments

Anonymous

1

"a student wearing the suit was able to bend down and lift 15 kilograms of weights with the assistance of the robotic suit."

This student was a child? 15kg isn't really heavy... it's the kind of weight a normal adoult would lift easily with one hand!

Anonymous

2

"a student wearing cushions"

Except for the "heavy weight" the are carrying...don't forget that they suit enables its user to stack up five cushions plus moving them around....

Anonymous

3

Gotta love people who can't read the whole article:

"In a demonstration of that model on Wednesday a student was asked to carry 10-kilogram bags of rice. With the suit switched off he could manage up to three bags before they started to get too heavy to carry, but with the suit switched on another two bags could be loaded into his arms."

He could carry 66 lbs, but not 110 lbs without the suit, but with the suit he could do the 110 lbs.

Anonymous

4

It must really be a typo, even 15 kg any 10 years old child can lift...

Anonymous

5

It says that the robotic aid lifted 15kg, not the student... both lifted 60 kg, not much, but consider the arms position.

Anonymous

6

15kg might not seem like a lot

If it's the suit that did all the lifting, the this is impressive. Sure, I can lift 15kg (I think "easily wth one hand" is an exaggeration though), but if this allowed a weak or injured or elderly person to do it without hurting themselves, then it is great.

Anonymous

7

And this is good because?

So they make an expensive suit ($) which needs to be powered ($), and maintained by a trained service tech ($), so that they can do something that can be accomplished twice as effectively with a cheap two-wheeled dolly. I get that this is a first step and all, but maybe demonstrating the device in a more practical scenario would be more effective. Carrying rice? Come on. I can just see a massive class-action lawsuit 50 years from now by those who used a device like this and ended up with destroyed knees. There are very good reasons we can only carry so much weight in our arms.

Evil Employer

8

Could it lift a 1000 kg?

Let's see.. the money I could save Not buying this suit I could hire, say 10 kids to lift 1000 kilograms and then not pay them.. : ) lol

Anonymous

9

Implications

I'm sure when the first microscope was invented, people thought: "what's the big deal, now you can see cork closer!? How useful is that?" - Haven't any of you seen Batman Beyond? Played Xenogears? Seen Gundam, Evangelion, etc? Machine assisted motion and strength pushes the boundaries of what we can do as human beings. This is a simple demonstration, but after every great invention, other people come up with amazing uses that the inventors never dreamed of.

This kind of invention is a huge leap for mankind, and while machine assisted movement has been around for decades (and centuries if you push the idea of what "machine assisted"). Maybe after a few more iterations, me and a buddy could rent these suits to build my new garage in just a couple of days. Maybe my mom will be able to lift up her pots again and make that amazing stew she made when I was growing up. Maybe we're looking at the precursor to ultra-deadly football. I'm excited. And no, I don't care if a badger could carry the extra weight.

Anonymous

10

cushions? no. 10kg bags of rice. oh wait, sorry, you were trying to be funny, my bad.

Anonymous

11

Exactly!

Just think of the potential prosthesis possibilities! A lower body version of one of these would help out someone like my dad (a bilateral above the knee amputee) go back to leading a normal life, ditching the wheel chair and expensive modifications that allow him to get in and out of his van.

Enigmatic

12

I think they have the wrong idea

While this is a great advance and certainly on the right path towards a bright future, I cannot help but wonder if perhaps they have the WRONG idea about how this should be done.

You can see from the photos that the suit actually physically rests against the person's body, and actually USES the body as a means of counter-weighting. As the back extends to stand up, pressure would be placed on the front of the thighs while physically PULLING the shoulders back in order to stand upright.

What is the point in doing "muscle assisted" machines when it relies on the resistance of the body in order to achieve the goal?!?

They should be focusing on the interaction between sensors placed on the body and the engaging of the hydrolics in such a way that the person wearing the suit is NOT used in any way to cuonter balance. In fact, the person should not feel any additional force or weight pressing against him at any point during this exerise.

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