November 17, 2011 Leave a comment
There’s an interesting article over at the new Discover Magazine blog, the Crux, by Kyle Munkittrick, which you should definitely go read if you’re interested since I’ll just touch on it here. He discusses powered exoskeletons as a coming fashion trend – something I had not at all envisioned. He points out that every fashion is a prosthesis, and most relevantly, glasses and contacts were something first seen only as an aid for a disability, but have now blown up to be very much a part of fashion. Why shouldn’t we adapt to exoskeletons as fashion as well?
Right now powered exoskeletons seem to be mainly considered as aids for the handicapped or for the military, but as they get cheaper and better it’s not hard to imagine them being used in everyday life – there’s plenty of work that requires extra safety or heavy lifting. Hard hats haven’t exactly become sexy, but if it’s something used in a wide variety of circumstances by a variety of demographic groups, and considering there are already a fair amount of companies competing over exoskeletons, it would make sense for companies to try to market their products as fashionably as possible for each niche.
If you’re wondering about the current state of exoskeletons, below are some examples of modern powered suits in action. Many companies are developing them, but the technology doesn’t seem to be quite developed enough for them to be widespread. Regardless, the exoskeleton seen in the first video (HAL) is being used in over 100 hospitals, according to the Tokyo Times, and the exoskeleton from the second video is being sold for personal use in New Zealand, although it’s currently rather pricey at about $150,000 USD.
Fun fact: the first ever powered exoskeleton was developed by GE and the U.S. military in the 1960’s; it was strong, but too heavy and too difficult to control, so it was never even tested with a person inside.
And on a side note, the Japanese company that’s working on HAL is called Cyberdyne. They named themselves after the company that created Skynet in the Terminator series, and their exoskeleton has the same name as the homicidal AI from 2001: A Space Odyssey? If they’re trying to tell us something about their future plans, they couldn’t put it any clearer.