We live in the age of superheroes and tech-obsession, with comic-book inspired flicks hitting the box office back to back. Today, we’ve gone much further than the Batmobile with funky controls. In the tradition of The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman, whose bodies were miraculously healed and enhanced into super-human machines after their near-fatal accidents, Robert Downey Jr. in Iron Man made headlines as Tony Stark of Stark Enterprises, the genius inventor who aims to save the world wearing a suit of power armor with a glowing heart after a traumatic incident that left him in need of a heart transplant.
A seemingly bottomless bank account and the brains to be rated one of the top 10 most intelligent fictional characters in American comics by Businessweek make all this seamlessly possible, but root such stories firmly in the world of fantasy. With our growing technological capacities however, our fascination and excitement over superhuman capacity may be quickly crossing the line from fiction into fact.
One may look no further than Japan to see the
shocking materialization of what may be our lofty scientific
ambitions—or our worst fears. For some time, highly unlikely—but
interesting—inventions like the terrorizing Land Walker robot in
2006 were the only significant developments we heard of. Since then the
Japanese government has put pressure on companies to make robotics a
primary focus of development, resulting in the Honda Motor Company’s
demonstration late last year of the Asimo Bots, child-sized robots that can work coordinating with each other to serve drinks, recognize specific requests, push carts and deliver trays. “Seen often at Honda and other events, it can walk, even jog, wave, avoid obstacles and carry on simple conversations,” they claim. The robots are expected to take orders at food retail stores and deliver drinks to costumers, without any need for human assistance.
Not only do robots no longer need our help, they’re far better at helping us than we are each other. This year, Japanese company Cyberdyne has released their Robot Suit HAL (Hybrid Assitive Limb), for mass production a “cyborg-type robot that can expand and improve physical capability. The suit creates the ultimate storm trooper, granting the ability to move with more ease and lift heavy objects by reading biosignals off the surface of the wearer’s skin. “HAL is expected to be applied in various fields such as rehabilitation support and physical training support in medical field, ADL support for disabled people, heavy labor support at factories, and rescue support at disaster sites, as well as in the entertainment field,” claim Cyberdyne on their website. It can lift tremendous weight and survives harsh weather conditions. Robot Suit HAL has already assisted a completely paralyzed man in climbing a mountain.
A working power assist suit that creates a hyper-functioning body has not only been created, but is not only hitting mass markets in Japan (and possibly the E.U. in the near future) but is doing so at unbelievably affordable prices, considering its revolutionary function and importance. About 20 units were predicted for production in 2007 and a whopping 400-500 this year. Companies will have to shell out between $42,273 and $59,182 to own one, $592 to rent. Who needs crackpot millionaires with a superhero vision: Soon the tech-geek possibility of joining the pantheon of heroes will be within our reach.