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Robotics The Military

Exoskeletons For Rent In Japan 226

destinyland writes "Cyberdyne has started renting their exoskeleton body suits in Japan. The mind-controlled wearable machine increases strength and endurance, and rents for $2,300 a month. (Sensors on the skin detect traces of nerve signals from the brain, synchronizing the power suit's movements with the user's own limbs.) New video shows the suits in use on the streets of Tokyo, and the concept may be catching on. DARPA now has a program called Exoskeletons for Human Performance Augmentation 'to develop devices and machines that will increase the speed, strength and endurance of soldiers in combat environments.'"
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Exoskeletons For Rent In Japan

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  • Seriously? (Score:5, Funny)

    by RobbieCrash ( 834439 ) on Wednesday September 09, 2009 @02:36AM (#29362575)
    Cyberdyne? HAL? Are we already this deep in the 'asking for it' business?
  • by Edmund Blackadder ( 559735 ) on Wednesday September 09, 2009 @02:37AM (#29362581)

    See title. I did not see anything in the video which could not be done by relying solely on your ordinary inner skeleton. Except of looking silly, which judging from western media's coverage of Japanese culture must be Japan's most popular pastime.

    But I will give some props to the exoskeletons -- they did not keep that girl from swaying her ass so nicely. Maybe they even enhanced it.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 09, 2009 @02:51AM (#29362661)

      I did not see anything in the video which could not be done by relying solely on your ordinary inner skeleton.

      So says the person whose ordinary inner skeleton (and the muscles surrounding it) obviously work without any problem. The disabled, those in rehabilitation, the elderly and infirm, I guess these people don't exist in your world *roll*

      • by Edmund Blackadder ( 559735 ) on Wednesday September 09, 2009 @02:59AM (#29362689)

        Well, it would be great if these things help the disabled, but none of the people in the test were disabled. And the article did not say that these would help the disabled. In fact it said that the exo-skeleton "is not ready for grandma yet."

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by foobsr ( 693224 )
        The disabled, those in rehabilitation, the elderly and infirm, I guess these people don't exist in your world *roll*

        My suspicion is that with common use of these exosceletons the percentages of groups that 'need' them will increase. The trend, of course, could be reversed if people took more care of the standard implementation of body functions. However, that would not create another growing revenue stream in the health care sector.

    • Check out a few of the videos of that exoskeleton on youtube. There is one of a guy holding something like 4 sacks of rice, walking around with them, and doing squats, and then another guy without the exoskeleton that is unable to hold up the sacks of rice let alone walk around with them.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by bkr1_2k ( 237627 )

        Not to put too much emphasis on this failing, but I can easily carry 2 50 pound bags of rice and do squats and I'm not even considered strong. My buddy could quite easily carry 4 and do squats and walk around. Having one person who can and one who can't doesn't really prove the suit is doing the "heavy lifting" portion of that task.

        I'm sure it's significantly augmenting the lifting, but it doesn't really prove anything about able-bodied versus disabled. Someone who can walk but can only walk short distan

  • Worth it? (Score:5, Funny)

    by dgbrownnt ( 1012901 ) on Wednesday September 09, 2009 @02:38AM (#29362593) Homepage
    Pay apartment rent, cable, internet, car insurance, student loans, and utilities... or live in a cardboard box and be a cyborg...?

    I'm in!
  • Hrmm (Score:4, Funny)

    by acehole ( 174372 ) on Wednesday September 09, 2009 @02:40AM (#29362599) Homepage

    The military version might be able to lift 200lb weights, speed box, run, jump and other amazing things.

    Nothing a cup of water wont put a stop to.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by KDR_11k ( 778916 )

      Yeah, just like tanks stop dead when they get wet.

    • You got a good point there, man.

      What happens when one of the Special Ops boys falls out of the Zodiac?

      "Hey Sarge, why does everyone in the platoon call Pvt.Sanders "Boat Anchor"?"

    • I'm sure it's only a matter of time before we hear news stories about malfunctioning brain-motor interfaces that make these robo-legs walk continuously with no control from the operator, and sending him or her ambling into a busy intersection for an abrupt introduction to the grill of a semi.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 09, 2009 @02:42AM (#29362607)

    From TFA, the exoskeleton from the Japanese is being made to help the disabled and the immobile. The US exoskeleton? It's for the soldier of tomorrow.

    Interesting priorities, that tell a lot about each culture.

    • The uses are not mutually exclusive.

      US soldiers have a nasty habit of getting in the way of US bullets ... friendly fire, I believe they call it.

      If they are wearing exoskeletons, then maybe they won't end up disabled / immobile at the hands of their own generals ?

      • Hey that wasn't his fault, he was just spychecking and nobody told him FF was on.

      • ...disabled / immobile ...?

        Hey, I think Japan is developing an exo-suit for that!

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by KDR_11k ( 778916 )

        Only if the things come with armor that can stop the bullets properly. So far exoskeletons seem to be mostly meant to augment strength and mobility, not armor so a bullet would do the same damage. There are a few places that could be hit and cripple in a way that the exoskeleton could compensate for but there are many more places that will leave you dead.

        • by RsG ( 809189 )

          Even if they haven't been shipped with armour attached, this sort of technology is perfect for military armour, as the folks in the US are undoubtedly aware. The primary limiting factor in armour is weight. A soldier can only carry so much, can't afford to be slowed down, and already has many kilos of equipment, none of which are going away. To provide decent support against most military weapons requires fairly heavy armour - a kevlar vest isn't going to cut it here. Plus, you've got to balance weight

        • Heck, as a bonus, I'm sure they can be programmed to walk the dead soldier inside it back to base. Well, until the enemy starts lobbing EMP Grenades...

    • Not really (Score:5, Insightful)

      by WindBourne ( 631190 ) on Wednesday September 09, 2009 @03:24AM (#29362791) Journal
      It speaks heavily about their needs. Japan is very concerned about lack of youth. They are currently regressing in terms of population size (of Japanese; illegal aliens are an issue for them). OTH, America has spent TONS of money on it for moving things. Simply the last investment is via DOD contractors. But, there has been active research into this for several decades. And up until recent times, it was concerned mostly with hazardous waste and/or moving large material.

      Culture has NOTHING to do with this.
      • Re:Not really (Score:5, Interesting)

        by tygerstripes ( 832644 ) on Wednesday September 09, 2009 @04:12AM (#29363045)

        You, sir, win a million points for insight. Minus one for saying it has nothing to do with culture though.

        Publicly, it is very important to Japan that their innovations and applications are seen as being civil rather than military, for political and cultural reasons going back decades.

        • Those decades would most likely be the from the end of WWII.

          Japan was forbidden to raise a military until some time around 2000 or so. They even caught a bunch of flack for their police being trained in paramilitary tactics in the late 80's and 90's. This set up is also one of the biggest reasons the US is heavily invested in Japan, while they were defenseless (could have limited defense forces but nothing like what would be needed to secure against China of any of it's neighbors), the US and some European

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by WindBourne ( 631190 )
          That is not entirely accurate either. An old roommate of mine, Yosuke explained that the gov. actually funds lots of projects that are dual use. His dad was high up in MITI, so he had some good knowledge. They simply fund it from the civilian side of things. But in general, they preferred items that were dual use. Partially for their own military needs, but also because they wanted to work closely with America (and sell it to us). The admin would have quietly looked at this for military purposes.

          As to the
    • their robots are aimed at aiding the elderly and this exoskeleton would do the same.

      If Japan didn't have someone looking over their shoulder perhaps their development of these products would be different? It has got to be kind of convenient to have the US providing support militarily, not that there are no drawbacks because there are some.

      then again, after all their monster/giant robot flicks perhaps there is some cultural inhibition to making them come to life.

    • So the Americans are using exoskeletons to make more potential customers for Japanese exoskeletons?

    • Just because it was developed in Japan for the disabled and for soldiers in America doesn't mean that you won't see it on Japanese soldiers or American disabled someday.
    • Enhancing a soldier's physical strenght multiple times at the cost of speed and agility could eventually be the solution once all wars are fought with fistfights. Until that day arrives and the common soldier still uses machine guns, lightweight bulletproof armor is still the way to go.
      • by Nadaka ( 224565 )

        Good. However lightweight "bullet-proof" armor won't really stop the average machine gun bullet.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Could have something to do with Japan being barred from most military development after World War II.

    • Good point, if I were to spend millions of Yen, I know in my heart that naming my company, and products after western psychotic killing machines would be one of the things I would need to do in order to be profitable. Personally, I thought the products sold themselves. What physically handicapped person wouldn't want to walk, run, or sit? What manual worker wouldn't want to have their load lightened? What Wii console gamer wouldn't want this as their joy-stick interface?
  • Muscle atrophy? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Psyborgue ( 699890 ) on Wednesday September 09, 2009 @02:43AM (#29362613) Homepage Journal
    I wonder what the long term consequences are of wearing one of these things all the time. As it is we're lazy. Now we don't even have to use our own muscles?
    • Obligatory Simpsons;

      Homer: "And here I am using my own lungs like a sucker."

    • You use more muscles for these than you do for passively sitting in a car or buss.

    • Re:Muscle atrophy? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by boliboboli ( 1447659 ) on Wednesday September 09, 2009 @03:33AM (#29362841)
      As someone who is ~30 and has 5 surgeries to date on my right knee, I'd prefer the consequences(muscle atrophy) of using using something like this to supplement my existing leg as opposed to a knee replacement. My point is, there are reasons other than laziness that some people may get excited about this technology(disabilities). Even wearing an acl brace, I can barely walk after a scrimmage with my nephew's or son's soccer team that I coach; an exoskeleton leg could keep me doing what I love for a long time w/o pain and disability.
      • Exactly - fast forward a decade or so - these things are smaller, faster, lighter, cheaper (well, pick any two). You make them for knees, arms, shoulders. Maybe not the whole kit for most people. Big win.....

        Make something that can just take the strain off the lower back and keep people active and functional. Bigger win. 'Orthopedic failure' of one sort or another is depressingly common as we age. Sure, you can replace bits and pieces, but there are lots of downsides to that approach. Hell, just ha
    • Re:Muscle atrophy? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Kjella ( 173770 ) on Wednesday September 09, 2009 @03:35AM (#29362853) Homepage

      That depends entirely on who will be using them. If those persons aren't able to move/exercise on their own then it's good, I'd take one of these over a wheelchair any day. If it's used for superhuman strength then I imagine it'll still take normal strength on the inside. But yeah, if you use it only for convienience and all the time then maybe. But that's really no different from a couch potato that barely gets his ass out to the car and back. In fact, I'm fairly sure that this motion will be more exercise than sitting in a car no matter what.

    • Re:Muscle atrophy? (Score:5, Informative)

      by 2Bits ( 167227 ) on Wednesday September 09, 2009 @04:52AM (#29363235)

      Not everyone is lazy. I have intervertebral disc problem, and sometimes, it could be pretty nasty, I can't even stand up straight. If I stand or walk over an hour or two, I would have difficulty standing straight, and the lower back all the way to my calf are painful.

      And no, I'm not a couch potato, I exercise twice to three times a week, mainly jogging (go slowly and gradually speeding up, up to 8km in 50 minutes) and swimming (2 to 3km in 1.5 hour) and stretching. And I'm not overweight either (had never been), I weigh 75kg, at 1.78cm tall. So that's pretty ok. If I don't exercise, my problems get worse.

      So this exoskeleton could be a nice thing for me. I just wish it's not that expensive, and not so "borgy" (not that I mind that much). I would love to have one to help me sometimes, which would make life less miserable when the problem arise.

    • by Nimey ( 114278 )

      Heh, I can imagine one of the lard-asses on the Wal-Mart electric carts using this kind of thing instead to move his 600-lb bulk.

  • I doubt the title (Score:3, Interesting)

    by dword ( 735428 ) on Wednesday September 09, 2009 @02:47AM (#29362633)

    The title of the original article says that these exoskeletons may soon become like bicycles. I doubt that and I'm sure that most governments will outlaw them. Whoever wears them could pose a serious threat to the people around him/her and why would anyone wear one for show if not for work (like construction) or fighting (which is illegal) ?

    • A car makes you a significantly greater threat to those around you, and those are legal with only the paltriest of operator certification processes(and that only for public roads). Also, since these things are going to start out being really expensive and only gradually get cheaper, they'll escape the stigma of being a dedicated menacing tool; because only wealthy dabblers or well-insured disabled, or people whose jobs require them will have them. Who is going to wear a $2300/month exosuit for malicious pur
    • by tgd ( 2822 )

      Its not exactly a secret that Japan is developing them because the majority of their population is getting to an age where they will not be able to take care of themselves.

      The needs of the elderly is driving robotic and exoskeleton development in Japan.

      So why would someone wear one?

      Because they can't walk without one.

  • Cyberdyne? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by HFShadow ( 530449 ) on Wednesday September 09, 2009 @02:49AM (#29362641)
    Seriously? They named their company after the company in Terminator? I'm not sure if I'm amused or concerned.
  • by kzieli ( 1355557 ) on Wednesday September 09, 2009 @02:53AM (#29362667) Homepage
    I'd hate to see what one of those things can do (to the user) if the sensors malfunction. Lets hope that the joints are desgined to not have a larger range of motion then the human wearing them.
  • by tnok85 ( 1434319 ) on Wednesday September 09, 2009 @03:07AM (#29362717)
    The way I see it, this has a very scary natural progression.

    Military use:
    At first, it's only used to assist in very special cases. Eventually it's perfected and every infantryman has one! Well, that's great. But one day, some 'genius' general is going to say, "Hey, what if we had the suits continue working even AFTER the soldier has died? That'll scare the bejesus out of the enemy!" And he'll get a medal, and some room full of programmers will work on making the suit controllable remotely, with simple commands that allow to act somewhat autonomously. (Stuff like... "Is the soldier dead? Okay, rush the bad guys and scare them")

    It works so well, that soon they don't even take the dead soldiers out of the suits until they start to smell pretty bad, which gives away their position. The suit would dig a grave, drop its soldier in it, and run back to base.

    Eventually that autonomy will prove so effective, they start allowing portions of it to activate even if the soldier is still alive. ("Not moving fast enough? Here, I'll help." "Hey, orders said go down this street, not that one. Let me help!" "Why aren't you shooting the small people with things shaped like grenades? Let me take care of that for you.") The soldiers will follow orders MUCH more effectively. And even if the suits walk them into death, well, the suits are more durable, and the enemy is more scared of dead walking soldiers, so... yeah.

    Corpse armies will soon become the norm, and instead of enlisted soldiers, we'll just start tossing criminals into the suits. Inevitably the criminals would disobey an order (probably given an impossible order right away) and lose 100% control, and just be slaves to the suit until they got shot in combat.

    So now we have robot zombie armies fighting each other with reckless disregard, since nobody's really getting killed anyway.

    Wow, I just had an awesome idea for a novel.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 09, 2009 @04:07AM (#29363025)

      Whats the idea for the novel?

    • Nah, it would be much easier to just automate the suits and use the soldiers to pilot them from 10,000 miles away like we do with most of the UAV's. In this situation, you would only need one soldier per suit instead of another soldier to control a couple of them.

      You would also have the added benefit of the 200lbs of human flesh being replaced by weapons systems and ammunition to extend the range and battle readiness of the suits. Perhaps beefing up the armor quite a bit and placing a live human in a couple

      • by radtea ( 464814 )

        Nah, it would be much easier to just automate the suits and use the soldiers to pilot them from 10,000 miles away like we do with most of the UAV's

        Will someone please mod this guy up?

        Heinlein's powered armour idea was the product of a different way of looking at the role of humans in combat, when war (which Heinlein never faced except as a civilian engineer) still carried with it some idea of a moral test for the individual. That idea was waning even then, as mindless engineers had contributed so much mech

        • by 4D6963 ( 933028 )

          Things that look like men, though... we've got lots of genes specially made for being scared of them.

          If you follow that logic then make them look like man-sized spiders.

    • Erh... why again do you need the flesh ballast inside the suit if it's working completely autonomously? Not using a human being would definitly be a plus. Less weight, less political problems (hey, none of our people die, good war!), no witnesses whose memory can't be completely erased...

  • It is so wrong! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Michael Woodhams ( 112247 ) on Wednesday September 09, 2009 @03:25AM (#29362801) Journal

    I watched the video of the three people walking the streets with leg exoskeletons.

    Argh! It just abounds in wrongness! They are all in black, with white exoskeletons. There should be a red one, a blue one and a yellow one or some such! Don't these people watch Sentai shows?

    • by bkr1_2k ( 237627 )

      No, but they're big fans of Star Wars.

    • Maybe they realized that even the most die hard geek isn't really a fan of the Power Rangers. At least once he crosses the threshold into an age where he might be earning the money to buy/rent one...

  • by Anachragnome ( 1008495 ) on Wednesday September 09, 2009 @03:31AM (#29362833)

    With the decrease in actual exercise performed while wearing one of these suits, soon everyone will be too fucking FAT to fit into them.

    And another thing...

    "Developing story! Epileptic in HAL suit has seizure on subway...18 reported dead. More at 11!"

    • Aren't they making autos bigger because people can't fit in smaller ones? Can you imagine an American family all fitting into a Model T Ford these days?

      • Oh man, don't get me started.

        I damn near fell through the floorboards of a 92' Ford Escort that a customer of mine brought in for an alignment back when I was a mechanic. The guy weighed well over 400lbs. He literally cracked the floorpan and it decided to give on my test drive. Driver seat punched right through to the asphalt, sparks ahoy.

        The really funny part was he wanted me to make the damn thing drive straight. The entire suspension on the left side of the vehicle was TOAST. Thing was NEVER going strai

        • Heh! I can't even picture someone that size in an Escort. I can't really fit into those at half his size. Though my problem is more leg room than weight.

  • These things are in Japan for a reason, they made lesser gundams to keep eyes from looking for the big ones.
  • Personally I can't wait for these to show up in Japanese Porn. There is probably already a wasei-eigo term for exo-skeleton-assisted rape.
  • by Anachragnome ( 1008495 ) on Wednesday September 09, 2009 @04:46AM (#29363199)

    I've posted a few times in this thread in an entirely joking manner, but something I couldn't quite put my finger on has been bothering me about this whole thing. It finally struck me.

    I occasionally do a little demonstration to show how the body responds to certain stimuli. You can try it yourself. Stand in a doorway, place the outside of your wrists against the sides of the doorjamb (the door has to be open, idiot), and apply steady, yet heavy pressure outwards with both arms, as if you are trying to do a jumping-jack, but the doorjamb is preventing your arms from going all the way up. Push hard. Hold it, still applying outward pressure, for a count of 60 seconds, then step out of the doorway and just relax, with your arms hanging at your sides. Weird, huh?

    Your arms will almost immediately begin raising back into the previous position, outwards, without any intentional effort, almost as if you are in a zero-G environment.

    Astronauts experience the exact opposite of this. They do not require much effort to move around, so that when they are suddenly back on Earth, it is very difficult for them to move around. I am not talking about muscle atrophy. That takes much longer to happen. As the previous exercise demonstrates, it takes a mere 60 seconds to condition the body to changes in the environment, yet it takes just as long for it to re-adapt.

    Now imagine a soldier in the field. Blastin' away, running hither and yon, jumpin' jack flash, for hours on end, his movements amplified by this crazy borg suit. Suddenly he takes a hit in the powerpack, or it just runs outta juice in the middle of a fire-fight. So what does he do? He takes the fucking thing off, otherwise he is a deadman (or simply laying there like one).

    Here is the problem. He is so conditioned to the suit, now it is off, it takes a long time to readjust. He is STILL a sitting duck, blundering around like a 40oz drunk because his muscles/brain are still expecting the suit to be doing most of the work.

    This is a bad scenario. He is the Terminator while the battery lasts, and Erkle-the-Wonder-Geek with no body armor when it goes dead.

    I think I'd rather hump the 80lb pack around and be able to dump it (and float like a butterfly) when the shit really hit the fan.

    • by mach1980 ( 1114097 ) on Wednesday September 09, 2009 @04:56AM (#29363255)
      How about not making the feedback linear? I.e let the soldier hold 80% of the weight for small loads and 20% for heavier loads.
      Sure it would make it more difficult to differentiate the real mass of things you lift but its a small price compared to the problem you described.
      • That might actually increase battery life too.

        Better yet, how about this.

        Give me a fucking robot that can carry all my shit and will follow me around? I can use it as a decoy, hide behind the fucker(and all it's armor), load my shot up buddy on it and even give it a pretty name, like Tinkerbell.

        Battery goes dead, I just take the important stuff and we are back on the road.

        And another thing...Is anyone else trying to imagine some grunt trying to SNEAK up on somebody in one of these suits?

        What about magnetic

        • I think the current idea of military used it to get more supplies into combat faster. If the soldier can use one of these to carry an extra 100lbs of equipment, plus armor, then his entire range of readiness just increased enormously.

          The idea would be to send supplies into positions already under attack or to get the supplies close to the mission objective and then take what they need while stashing the exoskeleton for future retrieval. Going into combat is sometimes a compromise between necessary gear to a

    • Starship Troopers (Score:3, Interesting)

      by elFisico ( 877213 )

      I'd recommend reading "Starship Troopers" by Robert Heinlein, which covers some interesting problems regarding exoskeletons used in combat. The solution of course is to not amplify the soldiers strength unless needed. The suit should simply move with the body in normal situations and only ampify in extreme situations, when the soldier exerts extreme force.

  • by Alain Williams ( 2972 ) <> on Wednesday September 09, 2009 @04:57AM (#29363261) Homepage
    How long before I get spam talking about these things being able to improve my performance in bed ... ? :-)
    • by dargaud ( 518470 )
      You have a exosexeton, your wife has one. And you let them run at each other while you watch TV shows in peace...
  • Wasn't that a real name for a real apocalypse in the movie Terminator...?
    Quick, destroy them, lest we start seeing more walking metal exoskeletons, with the evil red eyes!

  • "Take that you bitch"- Alien Queen versus exoskeleton fight at end of Aliens.

"I will make no bargains with terrorist hardware." -- Peter da Silva