Robot suits to aid disabled climb

Two disabled Japanese plan to climb the 4,164-metre Breithorn peak in the Swiss Alps aided by mountaineers wearing robotic walking suits.

    The suit, code-named HAL, detects muscle movement

    The climb, in August, will be the first trial of technology developed by Japanese researchers who hope that it will benefit the physically disabled as well as Japan's growing elderly population.

    The battery-powered suit, code-named HAL, detects muscle  movements through the natural electrical currents that pass over the surface of the skin and anticipates the next move.

    In this way, it aids movement and enhances the strength of the wearer.

    Seiji Uchida, 43, who has been wheelchair-bound since a car  accident in 1983, will be carried up Breithorn by Takeshi Matsumoto, his friend and physical therapist, who will wear HAL.

    They will be joined by Kyoga Ide, a 16-year-old boy with muscular dystrophy, who will ascend the mountain on the shoulders of a climber wearing the suit.

    Test run

    "But if we can successfully make use of the robot suit, we can also use it for more casual purposes such as hiking and trekking to nearby mountains"

    Seiji Uchida,
    disabled climber

    Uchida said that since seeing a photograph of Switzerland on a calendar while recuperating from his car accident, the dream of visiting the country had buoyed him during three years of  rehabilitation.

    "Just to climb Breithorn, it would be more efficient to use a sled than to carry a person with disabilities," Uchida said.

    "But if we can successfully make use of the robot suit, we can also use it for more casual purposes such as hiking and trekking to nearby mountains."

    Extra weight
    With Uchida weighing 50kg, the addition of his own weight and that of the suit will mean Matsumoto carrying more than 150kg up the mountain.

    Uchida said he was worried about the snow melting before his expedition, as that would make his friend's task more difficult.

    He pursued his ambition of mountaineering in Switzerland after seeing HAL demonstrated on television last year by Yoshiyuki Sankai, a professor and engineer at Tsukuba University who developed the suit.

    The party will be led by Ken Noguchi, a prominent Japanese alpinist.



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