When I tested out Cyberdyne's HAL exoskeleton at CES in January, it turns out I was testing just one of several significantly different versions of the power suit that Cyberdyne has under development. Specifically, I was wearing the medical rehab version of HAL, which Cyberdyne plans to introduce commercially alongside a separate strength enhancing version, along with a dedicated single cyborg arm to help people repetitively lift and hold heavy objects.
While the suits may be designed for different purposes, the underlying technology is fundamentally the same: as I found out, the HAL suits use skin sensors to detect electrical commands as they travel from your brain to your muscles, and then the suit moves you itself before those muscles even have a chance to kick in. The suit you really want to take home, though, is definitely the industrial version, which looks quite a bit beefier and more fantastical, includes the upper body segments, and probably doesn't (but might!) allow you to punch straight through a brick wall. Plus, it comes in a sexy red color, which just screams I'M A SUPERHERO.
The basis for HAL is an entirely new field called "cybernics," which (as far as I can tell) was more or less invented by Cyberdyne's president and CEO, Yoshiyuki Sankai:
"The word cybernics comes from cybernetics, mechatronics, and informatics. But this field also requires neurology, behavioral science, robotics, IT, physiology, and psychology. It also involves law, so it even extends as far as the social sciences. We're going to develop this field by looking at all perspectives, from fundamental research to the real world."
It's great that Cyberdyne is working so hard to make sure that their technology is useful for the general public who needs it, and not just industry and the military. I'm (still) looking forward to the day when I can go down to my local robotics emporium and rent an exoskeleton for a few hours, for those times when I need to move my couch or finally take my revenge on that kid who punched me in the nose for no reason in middle school. I'm coming for ya, buddy, just as soon as I can stuff my feet into these tiny shoes.