Tuesday, December 14th, 2010

HAL Exoskeleton: Improving Life Through Plastics

Last month I had the opportunity to attend the K Show in Dusseldorf, Germany. Part of my role there was to investigate new and exciting technological breakthroughs using plastics. When I walked by the Bayer MaterialScience booth, I noticed a structure that looked like something out of the movie “Iron Man.” The structure, shaped like an exoskeleton, was named “HAL” (Hybrid Assistive Limb) and really caught my eye.

As many of us are aware, the population both here in the U.S. and overseas, is aging.  As we get older, we may have a harder time moving, lifting or performing other physical tasks. This is where HAL comes in and is, in fact, already being used in Japan. HAL is an innovative exoskeleton designed to support the human motor function and strength. HAL is strapped on to human limbs and controlled through a computer that receives bioelectric signals from electrodes attached to the user’s skin. When the person attempts to move, nerve signals are sent from the brain to the muscles via motor neurons, moving the musculoskeletal system as a consequence. Based on the signals obtained, the power unit moves the joints in synchronization with the wearer’s movements.

The white plastic housing of HAL is based on Bayer’s Bayblend product classes which are thermoplastic polymer blends based on polycarbonate (PC) and acrylonitrile butadiene styrene copolymer (ABS) as well as the rubber-modified PC and styrene-acrylonitrile copolymer (SAN) blends.

In addition to helping the aging population, HAL is expected to be applied in various fields such as rehabilitation and physical training support, support for disabled people, heavy labor support at factories, and rescue support at disaster sites. Watching HAL in motion was pretty incredible and it reminded me that this was yet another pioneering development made possible because of plastic.

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