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'Next-Generation Robots' Set To Be Introduced Into Japanese Airport

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Next time you go to Japan, you may see some of the staff at the airport wearing robotic exoskeletons. Japanese company Cyberdyne has teamed up with Haneda Airport to introduce "next-generation robots" and exoskeletons to the airport.

Cyberdyne will provide fully functioning robots that will help in the cleaning of the airport and the lifting of heavy objects in the terminals. Not only that, but if the robots work out well, they could be supplied to other airports in Japan and outside.

"I want to expand it to all other airports in Japan, and also to airports worldwide," said Japan Airport Terminal Co. President Isao Takashiro in an interview with Bloomberg.

Robots are becoming increasingly popular in Japan, especially with the problem of aging, which is leading to a shrinking workforce. In fact, around 26 percent of the Japanese population is over 65 years old, which is higher than any of the other top seven industrialized countries. It makes sense, therefore, that Japan is one of the world leaders in the development of robots, which could help soften the blow of the shrinking workforce.

Of course, the Cyberdyne robots are also aimed at eventually helping Japan's image during the 2020 Olympic Games, which are set to be held in Tokyo.

Cyberdyne itself is led by Yoshiyuki Sankai, a professor at the University of Tsukuba. He is best known for his HAL powered exoskeleton. HAL, or hybrid assistive limb, is a device that is worn over the user's regular limbs and helps enhance their strength and speed. The technology is also useful for patients of accidents or diseases, and it is helping a number of patients in rehabilitation walk again.

The specific model that airport works will use is called HAL for Labor Support, which weighs only around 6.6 pounds and can hold a charge for up to three hours. It simply slips onto the wearer's waist and includes a number of sensors that pick up bio-electric signals from the muscles of the wearer. This prompts the suit to support weight that the wearer is lifting.

"Wearing of HAL leads to a fusion of "man," "machine" and "information." HAL assists a physically challenged person to move and enables him or her to exert bigger motor energy than usual," says Cyberdyne on its website. "HAL is also considered as the system that accelerates a motor learning of cerebral nerves."

The robots being introduced into Haneda don't look like one would expect them to. Instead, they resemble wet-dry vacuums, at least for now. Japan Airport Terminal has also asked Cyberdyne to experiment and develop more robots that can help with airport security and as ushers. These will help tourists find their way around the airport.

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