Flipping through New Scientist again this week I came across a short piece describing the WL-16 robotic walking chair, which is apparently all the rage in robotics at the moment. You can read more about it here, but the WL-16 isn’t a particularly exciting robot in my book: the first version suffers from the “Dalek Problem” for pity’s sake!
I was more interested in the last paragraph of the piece:
The first robotic creation designed to carry a person was Hardiman, a super-strong weightlifting robotic exoskeleton developed in the US by General Electric in 1968. It was so powerful it was never turned on with a person in it, for fear of what it might do if it went wrong.
Tantalising wouldn’t you say?
I instantly had an image of a powerful robotic suit gathering dust in an old warehouse somewhere, waiting for a super-hero (or villain?) to discover it. Or maybe I’ve just overdosed on super-hero films this year. Still it was worth a bit of Googling to find out some more.
As you might expect the reality is much less romantic, but I uncovered some fun articles along the way. How Stuff Works gives the Hardiman a mention in their “How Exoskeletons Will Work” article, while “Dances With Robots” from Science News Online covers exoskeletons as well as personal flying machines.
Like most of the pages I came across these articles prominently display concept sketches from DARPA that show their “vision” of what their research projects will produce.
This gem of a page puts things into context though.
Seems like the New Scientist author was enjoying a smidgen of artistic licence too. Most mentions of the Hardiman point out the impracticality of it’s extreme weight and power consumption. And apparently General Electric only ever got one arm working.
So, still no super-powers for me then. I’m keeping a close eye on the kids though, just in case.
Mind you Science may still yet provide some consolations.