What the HAL?


I love the way Japan and Korea are developing robotics. I used to say that the Japanese were great engineers but not that great at innovating, I think that perhaps those thoughts should be banished to the dim past.

I’ve written a few blogs on robotics, such as about the plans in Korea to have a domestic robot in every household between 2015 and 2020, ironically I mentioned HAL9000 from 2001 A Space Oddysey in that blog.

The latest innovation greeting the media this week has been the new Japanese Robot suit from Cyberdine, also called HAL, but this one is a robotic prosthesis. HAL stands for Hybrid Assistive Limb and uses the faint nerve impulses when your brain tries to control weak or damaged limbs.

This technology has been under development for several years, but it looks like it is ready or the market, as demonstrated in this video taken recently in a Japanese hospital.

What seems remarkable to me is that this robot will soon be available for purchase in Japan for a little over US$4,000! This means that these devices will be accessible for less than the cost of an average surgery and could perhaps be of major assistance to people on waiting lists for hip replacement or other limb operations.

One of the great features is that the exosceleton, if I can call it that, supports its own weight, so isn’t an extra burden on the person wearing it. This offers people with disabilities an amazing opportunty to live and do ordinary, but also extraodinary things. For example during testing 2 years ago, Seiji Uchida, a quadraplegic was able was able to climb a mountain on the back of a climber using a HAL suit.

Of course this brings in the Six Million Dollar Man question. If this is what disabled people can do, what could able bodied people achieve with one of these?

Of course the military have been working on projects like these for a long time. DARPA have for several years been working on exoskeletons that can help people carry more weight, run faster and of course have much more strength when needed.

Other scenarios where these could be used would be in civil emergencies such as earthquake rescue, where immediate strength could speed the release of people trapped under rubble.

The immediate opportunity is to alleviate suffering of people with injuries or issues such as arthritis, but there are likely to be lots of people queuing up for the opportunity to become super people, or perhaps super heroes, or of course super criminals, but I don’t want to go there.

Day to day operations of emergency services could also benefit from this technology. In the hands of fire services, police, paramedics and others, this technology could be brilliant.

Could a San Franciscan Artists lost eye instigate the next disruptive technology?


This will no doubt do find its way to TV and all the media will pounce on it, not the least because most people will think it is pretty weird. I found the story by accident when following a tweet from NZStuffEnt about a new NZ ICT Body.

So the story on Stuff goes like this. Tanya Vlach, an artist in San Francisco lost an eye in a car accident in 2005 and has asked for someone to replace her prosthetic eye with a Web Cam with Bluetooth connectivity. She also wants a 3x optical zoom and an SD slot and the ability to take still photos. She told the NY Times that she could be used for a reality TV show or as a life recording.

As she said, this kind of thing has been in Science Fiction stories for decades and would be a logical extension one day, so, just like with my Location Innovation Awards, why not make one day, today?

This would fit quite nicely with recent topics I have been blogging about such as Haptic VR suits. If they can make prosthetic limbs that are controlled by the human nervous system, it shouldn’t be hard to create an eye that can be controlled directly, either through optic nerves, or by blinking to allow her to zoom, focus, switch it on and off (there are obviously times when you do want some privacy) and dilate to cope with bright light.

There are obviously some technical details such as the power required to run it and the Bluetooth Communications. Having done a lot of photography I know how much power is involved in zooming and adjusting shutters etc, but I’m sure there is a way, after all they can implant pacemakers and other technology that requires a modicum of reliability.

As to what to do with it. She would make a fortune just from telling her story, but the opportunities would be huge. Espionage might be unlikely because of a high profile and metal components, but chances are the military would be very interested in her experience as would other security services, irrespective of how discrete the new eye is or isn’t.

The company that gives it to her will be gifted a huge business opportunity. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of this technology doesn’t already exist. I have previously blogged about contact lens displays for computing which are already under development. Some 30 years ago my grandfather became snow blind and was a guinea pig for a technology of experimental prosthetic eyes. They were big many faceted things that didn’t work very well, but instead of seeing nothig he could see shadows and knew when I was walking in the room. So this concept can’t be new. The big difference is that the technology development that I have been aware of was designed for the user to regain vision, not as a camera to be transmitted elsewhere.

So like the 6 Million Dollar Man, wouldn’t it be better if she could see everything a well as transmit it?

So if you have the technology and want to help her and yourself, she has a blog where she has her wish list specifications and you can make contact with her.

This is so cool on so many levels. Firstly from adversity comes something potentially better than she had before. She might hanker for more privacy one day but it sounds as though she is smart enough to sign a contract that will give her what she wants and let the people who develop it get what they want.

I could think of so many uses for this technology. I was interested to note that she did not list a microphone but I guess at times when she is recording for others, she could always wear a seperate microphone, somewhere, perhaps built into her watch or jewellery.

As well as law enforcement and military use, it would be great for all sorts of news reporting. I wonder how many situations are lost because people wouldn’t allow cameras into a scene of activity. William Gibson would probably see it used for marketers looking for the next big fad or selling the experiences of people wearing them to others, Philip K Dick would have had people rebelling against the Big Brothers who were wearing them and trying to find ways to shut them off.

Imagine using them in a sporting environment. How would you like to see exactly what your favourite sportsperson sees when they are playing? Bring in the Haptics again and you could see and feel what is happening. It’s not unreasonable, they already using sensing technology on top athletes to understand exactly how their bodies work.

Marketers are always looking for the next Christensens Disruptive Technology and if Tanya is successful, this could have a huge impact on so many technologies that people will adopt in the future. I wish her every success.

While this blog is starting to get a good following, I would love to get more readers and encouraging me to keep writing. If you feel that my blog is interesting I would be very grateful if you would vote for me in the category of best blog at the NetGuide Web Awards. Note that the form starts each site with www whereas my blog doesn’t and is of course https://luigicappel.wordpress.com.

Thanks so much for your support:)