Dr. Sankai, who introduced the 'Robot Suit', something unfamiliar to the world, established CYBERDYNE Inc. in June, 2004.
I asked what led him to the development of the 'Robot Suit', the establishment of CYBERDYNE Inc., and his future vision.
Dr. Sankai in primary 3
What led you to the development of the 'Robot Suit'?
I read this book called 'I Robot' by Isaac Asimov, when I was in 3rd grade. There appeared a doctor and the robots that the doctor created. The doctor looked as if she was a magician who could create everything out of nothing to me, and always did right things, something beneficial to human beings. 'So cool!!' I thought, and made up my mind to be a scientist who creates robots like the doctor when I grew up. I locked myself in my room, and carried out odd experiments day after day. My brain was swelling with knowledge in electric engineering when I graduated primary school. There was a cartoon on the air at the same time, called 'Cyborg 009' which also influenced me very much. And now, I'm developing the 'Robot Suit' that has the advantages of both a robot and a cyborg.
Why 'Robot Suit', not a robot?
I have always been concerned with the relationship of human beings with technologies. Humans only get older and weaker after they grow up, and it is unavoidable. To be able to live a meaningful remaining time depends on the existence of technologies. I thought that to support human beings using technologies will improve the relationship of human beings with technologies. However, human bodies are filled with wonders. The bio-defensive system of the human body rejects everything that tries to enter the skin. Within the skin, or out of the skin. I had come to the conclusion that the skin is the significant border. I tried to stick the technology on the border, the skin. That is the 'Robot Suit'.
Dr. Sankai working hard for PhD
How does the 'Robot Suit' work?
Faint bio-signals appear on the surface of the skin when the human brain tries to move the exoskeleton. The signals are detected and the 'Robot Suit' moves to support the action. The 'Robot Suit' moves the body of the human, and the information comes back to the brain. This interactive spiral loop of the human and the robot/information system is what I think, will be the core technology to develop the world of the next generation.
With Dr. De Baykey at Baylor College of Medicine
I'm sure you have come across some difficulties?
To achieve this cycle of the human and the technologies, I needed to overcome many challenges. Humans can feel discomfort when the 'Robot Suit' is added to the body, as it acts as a sensor, and also as equipment to control the whole body. This affects us both physically and mentally. To minimize the size and the weight was a big challenge, and the individual body differences needed to be considered as well. To attempt all of these, I needed knowledge not only in engineering, but in the fields like behavioral science, cranial nerve science, physiology, psychology and so on. Even if the 'Robot Suit' itself had been completed, legal, ethical and safety requirements needed to be met in order to contribute to the world. I strongly felt the need of an academic system that includes a number of fields combined. I have named and established this academic system, 'CYBERNICS'. The academic system 'CYBERNICS' is now chosen as an international base (Global COE Program) for the academic area. 'Robot Suit HAL' is the outcome of sleepless research.
With lab members at Baylor College of Medicine
How do you think 'HAL' contributes to the world?
We are now aiming for mass-production of 'HAL' to be used in the medical and personal care fields. Rehabilitation, ADL, and caring support will be the application in medical and personal care fields. The workers working under harsh conditions could also use 'HAL' to support their work. The increase in the average working age caused by the decrease in the birth rate and aging might be eased using technologies like the 'Robot Suit'. To enjoy is as important as to work in order to live a happy life. 'HAL' is expected to be in full activity in the fields other than medical or caring fields like heavy labor support, the entertainment field and also rescue field operations. Engineering and medicine are meaningful if they help human beings. To supply leading edge technology to the person who really needs it, and to exploit the future with a hearty science technology: that is what I am aiming for, and I think that is the purpose of my existence. I will develop technologies that make people smile, and create a future world that nobody has seen before.