It’s the holiday season again - a time to relax, reflect, and give the gift of exoskeletons. Yes. Whether you need a hand around the house, a way to show rude guests to the door, or simply take a load off, there is an exoskeleton for you.
This stuff is so excellent, but man is the world going to be wierd. I still do a double take when someone scoots by on a Segway, so imagine the day when herds of exoskeletal-grandmas start jogging by on their way to bingo. I had better sit down. Anyhow, I was supposed to write about the control theory and HCI issues behind these systems. I guess I’ll do that a bit later.
In the meantime we can talk about cyborg warriors of the future, or jogging grandmas… which is it?
At the end of the movie Aliens, we see Sigourney Weaver duelling with the title creature using a large cargo lifter - one which looks remarkably similar to what iVan is using in fact. In the Matrix Revolutions, the city of Zion utilizes similar exoskeletons for manual labour (until, of course, the inevitable invasion).
Hollywood has no shortage of insight into how our future should look and if they seem to be low on ideas, one can always turn their head towards the fanciful futures of Comics and Japanese animation (popularly known as Anime). There too, we can find examples of exoskeletons such as Marvel’s Iron Man, the police officers of Bubblegum Crisis or the body armour of the Guyver.
Looking at the Toyota i-foot, I can’t help but drool over the idea of being in control of a miniature Mechwarrior and pretend I’m in a war torn planet eons from now, equipping my i-foot with a gatling gun and flamethrower. Then I spend a second to think about its actually practical uses - or those it was intended of anyways. The i-foot is advertised as a mobility solution for the disabled. This initially sounds like a fantastic idea. Can’t walk? How about we give you some legs? Sounds great.
Then you try and figure out how this thing goes through regular doorways. How it even opens a door would be interesting. How about the toilet? How much room does it take on a narrow sidewalk in North America (never mind the insanely crowded streets of Tokyo or Hong Kong). What if you become dependent on it - how do you travel with it? How is it transported?
When it comes down to it, wheelchairs are exoskeletons that are incredibly effective. Motorized wheelchairs perhaps even more so but a bipedal walker is actually not all that practical - at least in the size of i-foot.