Skeletonics – science-fiction cyborgs stepping into the real world
by Antonia Alalitei
Have you ever wondered how it would feel like to be a cyborg? Many book and film creators have depicted numerous variants of cyborgs along the years, with more or less invasive types of fusion between human and machine. Many of these creations include a wide range of exoskeletons, shells of metal, plastic and circuitry that could effectively coat a human being within a robot outer shell. A fairly famous such depiction is present in the movie “Avatar”, where Earth inhabitants aim to take over a foreign planet using “armed walkers”, exoskeletons that enhance soldier performance by mimicking their every move.
Up until the current decade, technology has caught up to a certain extent with science fiction, with examples of powered exoskeletons, with plenty of applications in the medical field, taking the form of a wide range of prosthetics aiming to rehabilitate and restore human performance.
Stepping up the game
Skeletonics Inc, a Japanese company currently based in Tokyo, is revolutionizing the possibilities of exoskeletons applications, with their so-called “Sukerutonikusu” product series, robotic exoskeletons that turn the wearer into an almost 3m tall cyborg that is exclusively controlled by the human user.
Founded in 2013 by ReyesTatsuru Shiroku and Tomohiro Aka, engineering graduates of the Okinawa National College of Technology, it has now reached its 4th complete product, ‘Skeletonics Arrive’, which is also the first consumer available of the series, with more fluid human-robot interaction, a lighter wearing experience and a set-up time summing up to one minute only.
The ‘Skeletonics Arrive’ provides a human body function expansion gear that makes the wearer feel as if they were a giant. The company’s aim is to bring entertainment to the people in Japan and the world through its creations, to bring the excitement of experiencing enhanced human abilities, feeling as if part of a robot and as if the robot ‘listens’ to your commands.
The experience is proven to be thrilling by a survey published on the company’s website. At a publicly open event, a company was hired to do an AI-based emotion analysis by live recording wearers of the robot. Out of the 437 brave visitors, the result came to be that 20% experienced a feeling of happiness during the robot symbiosis.
Let’s get deeper into the techy stuff. First things first, as any respectable robot, the creation of Skeletonics Inc involved the integration of mechanical, electrical and control engineering elements, in order to produce a functional robot. All of the plastic used for the shell is very lightweight, to impede as little as possible human movement.
But the focus point of the robot is the efficiently implemented master-slave synchronization system. This implementation allows for the robotic outer shell to perfectly double the movements of the human in real time, as if they were one. Interestingly enough, this particular system is purely mechanical, which means there is no type of brain-machine interface that would support this ‘thought of movement’ translation into practice. Could seem a bit old-fashioned at first, as everything is digital nowadays, but the choice is backed up by the enhanced speed and fluidity it provides, since there is no processing-induced lag in transmission.
How does it work? If you look at the schematic below, in between the movement from the wearer hand(G) and the robot hand(E) there is a complex type of joint(MC). Whatever mechanical force or movement the user does will be ‘absorbed’ by this joint and replicated into the robot arm. You could think of this joint as the robot body/shoulder. Direct movement transfer translates into fluid, ‘live’ movement of robot and human in sync. Pretty fun to try!
The only part of the exoskeleton which is controlled by electronics are the fingers, power being supplied by a battery pack attached to the back of the frame. The hands contain five buttons that can be used to activate the fingers selectively. With separate articulation in the fingers, it is possible to clasp and manipulate objects, provided that they are sufficiently lightweight and wide. Understandable design choice, since hand movement is quite delicate and requires much more precision for a smooth delivery.
Commercial availability and future prospects
B-to-C operations began in 2018 when, for the first time since its establishment in 2013, Skeletonics Inc. was giving the general public an opportunity to purchase one of their products.With the standard configuration only, the latest exoskeleton model of the company of around 35 000 pounds, with additional customizations such as terrifying LED lights and colours raising the price even further.
But the main reason to get excited is that all orders are designed and manufactured with personalized creations according to customer requests. Furthermore, for those of us who only seek a one-time try of the robot, the company is providing rental services for a variety of events, so give a quick scan to their website and give a go to the cyborg experience of the decade!