Mechanical exoskeleton approved by US FDA

A new mechanical exoskeleton has been approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use on humans.

The Cyberdyne HAL mechanical exoskeleton. Image courtesy of Cyberdyne.
The Cyberdyne HAL exoskeleton. Image courtesy of Cyberdyne.

Built by Japanese robotics company Cyberdyne, the mechanical exoskeleton is intended to be used in a medical setting in order to aid patient recovery.

Called the Hybrid Assisted Limb (HAL), the exoskeleton attaches to the limbs of the wearer, enabling them to move with far less effort that would normally be required.

Specifically, the HAL mechanical exoskeleton uses battery power to assist the wearer’s movements, allowing them precise control over how the device moves.

Unlike other exoskeleton’s on the market, however, the HAL exoskeleton’s movements are controlled through interactive biofeedback using intention-based motion information from the brain and nervous system.

“HAL for Medical Use reads the wearer’s bio-electric signals and accordingly compensates muscle power of lower limbs and assists him or her in walking, standing up and sitting down with his or her own legs,” explains manufacturer Cyberdyne on its website.

Over time, the HAL retrains the body in the movement of its limbs and allows time for it to regrow critical muscles used in controlling its legs.

As well, due to the fact that the device is controlled through the central nervous system, wearing it also helps retrain pathways in the brain, even in cases where normally the patient would not have the strength to move.

The device has previously been on sale in Japan since 2014 and has also been approved for use within the European Union.

The fact that it has now been approved by the FDA means that the US regulator acknowledges the therapeutical benefits of such a system, and may pave the way for it to be used in a greater number of medical settings.

Initially, the company plans to establish a joint venture, called the Cybernic Treatment Center in Florida in order to begin using and spreading this technology across the country.

Interestingly, Cyberdyne also offers a separate version of HAL designed for non-medical uses. This exoskeleton enables its wearer to lift heavy loads and better complete day-to-day living and working tasks.