Iron Man: are we there yet?

July 20, 2011 | By More

Are we there yet?

The past few years have seen various examples of engineers inching us closer to an Iron Man super body reality. Back in September 2010, Utah-based defense contractor Raytheon unveiled its XOS-2 exoskeleton. The “wearable robotics” suit went on to capture the media’s fancy and was even named Time magazine’s “Most Awesomest” invention of 2010. And it is pretty awesome. According to the manufacturer, the 195-lb suit will make a 200-lb weight feel like 12 and give the wearer the ability to punch through a six-inch wood wall.

Nobody in the world would not want this.

Raytheon hopes to start producing the suit for use in the military in another five years. But before you get carried away with ultimate bionic warrior fantasies, the company sees these suits serving a logistical function as opposed to direct combat.

Here’s a video showing the XOS-2 in action:
(in which you should view through the filter of your knowledge that this is a piece of corporate propaganda aimed at getting favorable media attention and securing defense contracts—or feel free to forget all that if you want to live in perpetual “that’s so cool, dude” land.)

While sci-fi fanboys go to sleep with visions of the Power Loader from Aliens dancing in their heads, or the military’s need to punch through six-inch wood walls, these robotic threads have a constructive civilian function. Namely in the medical field.

Mechanized suits present a twofold engineering problem: 1) designing a practical robotic suit that can accentuate the natural movement of the body, and 2) giving the wearer control over this movement.

The real promise of this tech will be returning bodily control to those with debilitating diseases or injuries. The field of “medical robotics” has truly become a multi-disciplinary pursuit around the world.

Recently, New Zealand-based Rex Bionics sold its first set of custom-fitted bionic legs to a paralyzed man who was able to take his first steps in over three decades. The REX device allows people who have lost the use of their legs to travel freely while upright and, most promising, traverse stairs. A video from the manufacturer:

In Japan, Cyberdine Corporation developed HAL, the “Hybrid Assistive Limb” to help the physically handicapped.

The 10-kilogram (22-pound) machine belts at the waist, and has a battery and computer system at the back. The system also has sensors that pick up weak electric signals that are sent along the skin’s surface to the brain. This allows HAL to help wearers move in the way they are thinking. The average walking speed with the assist of the suit is 1.8 kilometers per hour.

Here is a video about how natural it can be walking around Tokyo:

So, when will we get our robotic suits?

As of Oct 2009, HAL can be rented in Japan for 220,000 yen (2,200 US dollars) a month. The REX device is still in its prototype stage. The others may take a little longer. Let’s hope we see them more for peaceful applications before the military does.

But of course, if we are ever attacked by giant space bugs or Mickey Rourke with a pair of mechanized tentacles, we may have just the necessary tool to take care of business.

Unless you can’t wait. Then here’s one you can do at home:

Reference, with thanks, from:
http://www.extremetech.com/article2/0,2845,2384825,00.asp

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About the Author ()

EngTong, pioneer and innovator. Graduated from Imperial College London with an MBA from Cranfield School of Management. Lived in Scotland, England, California, Beijing and led teams in Italy, France, Japan, Taiwan and Malaysia to do the impossible. Now based in Singapore and believes the future is to blend the sophistication of western management practices with the strength of Asian Values. Trained as a Chartered Engineer. Member of IET, Associate of City and Guilds and a certified SixSigma Champion.

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