HAL [Hybrid Assistive Limb] is the world‘s first * technology that improves, supports, enhances and regenerates the wearer's physical functions according to the wearer's intentions. Because of this feature, it is also called "Wearable Cyborg™".
When a person tries to move, the brain sends a signal to the muscle to command the movement. At that time, a very faint signal that reflects the wearer's intention to move appears on the skin's surface. Using its sensors attached to the skin's surface, HAL detects these so-called "bio-electrical signals" to perform the desired movements with the wearer's voluntary commands.
*The invention of Cyborg-type Robot (Japanese Patent no.4178186) was awarded the Invention of 21st Century Award by the Japan Institute of Invention and Innovation in 2009
When we move our bodies, we begin by thinking about the movement.
By thinking, “I want to walk,” the brain sends the necessary signals through the nerves to the muscles needed for that movement.
The speed of signals that are conveyed from the brain to each muscle is between approximately 150km/h and 400km/h, which is far beyond the speed of Shinkansen bullet train.
It is indispensible for HAL to employ the technology to recognize and understand those high-speed signals at a glance.
In the body of a healthy person, each muscle receives signals sent from the brain, allowing the muscles to move only the amount of force necessary to match the intention.
When we walk, the brain synchronizes the movement of several muscles based on information obtained from all parts of the body.
HAL was designed based on these characteristics of the human body.
As the signals travel towards the muscles, they leak on the skin surface as very faint signals, so-called “bio-electric signals [BES]”. HAL can read the BES with its originally developed electrodes attached to the wearer‘s skin surface. Based on various other information obtained as well, HAL determines the wearer's desired movements.
BES that appears on the skin surface is very faint. Its voltages are only from 1/1000th to 1/100,000th of the ones that are exerted by dry batteries.
As HAL can detect such weak signals, it does not overlook the wearer‘s slightest subtle motions that don‘t make the limbs bend.
HAL controls the power unit according to the movements it recognizes to assist the wearer in moving according to his or her intentions or even exerting more force than usual.
HAL has two types of control systems that can be used together according to the conditions of the wearer. The “Cybernics Voluntary Control System” uses BES to perform the wearer‘s desired movements. The other is the “Cybernics Autonomous Control System” to realize human-like movements even if the BES cannot be detected. These two control methods are the reason why HAL is such advanced technology.
The process described in the first two steps happens in an instant. Like our body, HAL can process various information and control the power unit very quickly to provide assistant at the right timing. As such, when the body starts moving, HAL is ready to assist at the same time.
Once the movement is complete, the brain checks how the body moved according to the signals sent. When HAL realizes the wearer‘s intended motion, the body feeds back information of the successful movement. This allows the brain to gradually learn how to send out the signals necessary for good movements. Repeating this process could help a person with a disability improve their physical function after taking off HAL.
HAL has a wide range of applications, such as improving physical function in welfare and medical fields, heavy work support in other workplaces, and supporting recovery activities at disaster sites.
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