Danish Prime Minister Lars Loekke Rasmussen took a leap into the robotics future in Japan on Monday, trying out a power-assisted robo-suit dubbed HAL or Hybrid Assistive Limb.
"That's amazing!" Rasmussen gasped as he tried out the exoskeleton device, which mimics movement with amplified power and can be used to help paralysed people walk or to assist carers carrying patients.
The inventors, robotics venture Cyberdyne Inc., last Friday set up a unit in Denmark and plan to provide four robotic leg units to the Danish government for their first trial in Europe, the company said.
When Rasmussen, in shirtsleeves for the trial, flexed his arm, sensors attached to his skin detected the movement through electric impulses and transmitted the signal to a more powerful robotic arm, which copied the action.
The robo arm is meant to be worn by the user and to "learn" his or her body movements, but was positioned nearby in the demonstration at a Tokyo nursing home for the elderly.
"It's almost unbelievable, but I can see with my own eyes that it actually works," he told AFP. "I think there is a lot of potential in this technology.... For rehab, this is obviously a very good idea.
"I think choosing Denmark as your European hub is a very good decision," Rasmussen told the head of Cyberdyne, Yoshiyuki Sankai, a professor at Tsukuba University near Tokyo.
The innovation was important because "the health care sectors in both countries, Denmark and Japan, are facing a shortage of manpower," said the premier, who is on a four-day visit to Japan.
Sankai said having Rasmussen test his high-tech marvel was "more than I could have hoped for" and added that he hoped "Denmark will take the first step" in popularising its use.
Cyberdyne shares its name with a robot maker in the "Terminator" sci-fi movie, while HAL is also the name of the on-board computer in Stanley Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey".
The company in May plans to present its full-body suit, which assists both arms and legs, at the 2010 Shanghai Expo, saying the device allows users to carry a load of up to 70 kilograms with one arm.