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The "Hal" exoskeleton for rescue workers

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The Japanese exoskeleton Hal, for Hybrid Assistive Limb, which is already helping caregivers, is now adapting to rescue workers called on major disasters, such as the tsunami of March 2011. This device detects movement intentions by capturing the electrical signals emitted by the wearer's brain.

Exoskeletons, those motorized harnesses to facilitate physical exertion, are becoming a reality, whether it is a question ofImproving the autonomy of elderly or paraplegic peopleor to increase the performance of infantrymen, such as the future French model. Hercules. The Japanese have been working for a long time on this concept and University of Tsukuba is one of the most advanced in this field thanks to the work of Yoshiyuki Sankai.

He is the inventor of the Robot Suit Hybrid Assistive Limb or Hal, the first commercial version of which was introduced in 2008. This name was that of the computer in Stanley Kubrick's 2001 film, A Space Odyssey, but this one is an exoskeleton, to "complement, develop or enhance physical abilities," says Cyberdyne. It has been designed for medical uses such as rehabilitation, but also to assist the elderly or help workers in difficult conditions.

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The exoskeleton Hal presented in its mainstream version. In detail, intention sensors (bio-electric signal censors) are placed on the lower limbs (lower limb) and upper limbs (upper limb), accompanied by angle sensors on the joints and sensors in the soles (floor reaction force sensor) to recognize the terrain and slope. The battery pack and control unit are located on the back and sides at hip level. Cyberdyne

Hal, the exoskeleton with the intention sensors...

In order to synchronize itself as naturally as possible with a person's movements, the Hal exoskeleton uses dhe intention sensors placed on the skin that detect the electrical signals sent by the brain to the muscles. "When a person wants to move, nerve signals are sent from the brain to the muscles via motor neurons, moving the musculoskeletal system accordingly. At that point, very weak bio-signals are detectable on the surface of the skin. Hal senses these signals through a sensor placed on the wearer's skin," says Hal. Cyberdynethe company founded in 2004 by Professor Sankai to ensure a commercial future for Hal. It is precisely these sensors that are missing on the Hercules exoskeleton, which uses another technique: to spot the beginning of the movement very early to accompany it.

The sensors in question are positioned in the upper and lower limbs. The exoskeleton also incorporates angle sensors located at the knee and shoulder joints, as well as sensors located in the soles of the overshoes that measure the slope and the nature of the terrain in order to adapt the strength of the assistance. In its full upper and lower limb configuration, Hal weighs 23 kg, 15 kg in its lower limb configuration alone. Sa battery ensures a continuous autonomy of 2 hours and 40 minutes. Hal's development is now complete, the exoskeleton is already in use in hospitals and retirement homes in Japan.

Lift 40 kg without forcing

At the request of the Japanese authorities, the exoskeleton has also been created in a special version to equip first responders to respond to disasters such as the tsunami which hit the country in March 2011 and caused an accident at the Fukushima nuclear power plant. The idea is to provide assistance to people who will have to walk among debris and work long hours in difficult conditions, handling heavy loads, exposed to toxic fumes or radiation. For the occasion, Hal incorporates tungsten protective shells to reduce radiation exposure by about 50 %, as well as a cooling system to prevent users from suffering from heat. Equipped with this exoskeleton, they will be able to lift up to 40 kg without forcing. Heart rate and body temperature will be monitored in real time.

The exoskeleton can support its own weight while carrying tools, allowing rescuers and workers to work longer in difficult conditions.

(Article Futura Sciences - November 2, 2012)

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