I work with disabled people five days a week. Seeing technologies like the ones that I'm about to show you not only blow my mind, but tell me that HALO isn't all that far into our future. Cue Master Chief...
1) Lockheed Martin is a defense technology developer (basically they are the real Stark Industries), and they've developed an exoskeleton fit for the battlefield called a Human Universal Load Carrier (HULC). As an aside note, I think it's awesome that the letters almost spell "HULK" as in "your favorite green muscle dude with anger management problems." The HULC can divert up to 200 pounds in weight through powered titanium legs while allowing the user to move freely. Lockheed claims that a fully laden soldier will retain the ability to march at 3 mph and even break into 10 mph sprints while wearing the battery powered HULC. The system is designed to reduce stress on the leg and back muscles and comes with a lift assist device attachment that allows a soldier to safely lift heavy loads with the strength of two or more men.
3) Kobayashi Labs' Muscle Suit replaces electronic actuator motors with a system of inflatable pneumatic "artificial muscles" to help nurses or care workers carry elderly or ill patients. It currently allows users to support 110 pounds with ease, carrying it with fixed arms like a walking forklift. Think of James Cameron's Aliens and the machine that Ripley uses at the end to fight the xenomorph.
|The Lockheed Martin HULC|
2) Japanese firm Cyberdyne used its robot suits as the disaster-fighting protection of the future during the Fukushima nuclear plant disaster in 2011. It is the first personal exoskeleton robot to receive a global safety certificate. Thus far, 330 of these things have been leased to hospitals across Japan where they are used to assist patients with muscle weakness or disabilities due to stroke and spinal cord injuries. The suit interprets faint electrical signals in the skin around damaged muscles and moves the motorized joints in response. Cool eh?
|Muscle Suit by Kobalab|
|The Ekso by Ekso Bionics|
4) Ekso Bionics created the "Ekso" to give paraplegics upright mobility. The man in this photo is paralyzed from the waist down, and he can walk with the assistance of the "Ekso." I think that is just mind-blowing as I work with a quadriplegic who has been confined to his chair for 24 years, and things like this are giving him hope that he may be able to walk again in his lifetime. The commercial version of the Ekso has recently been made available to hospitals and rehab centers and the company hopes to have a personal version available as soon as 2014. The company claims that the Ekso weighs 50 pounds, but the one wearing it doesn't feel the weight at all. It has 4 electric motors and 15 sensors that recreate your nervous system and tie it into a computer that serves as the brain.
It's a great world we are living in. Technology, science, and human engineering are turning the imaginations of those of us who write science fiction into reality with each passing day. Superhuman is now becoming a question of "when" and not "if." Have a great weekend and remember to be inspired. :)