As in previous years the judging panel had a difficult choice to make. The unanimous selection for the 2009 IERA Award winner was Cyberdyne Inc. for its Robot Suit HAL, an innovative human assistance system using an exoskeleton.
To foster innovation and entrepreneurial spirit while making the best possible use of synergies between science and industry in the fields of robotics and automation is the aim of the IEEE/IFR Invention & Entrepreneurship Award (IERA) Award, that is co-sponsored between the IEEE Robotics and Automation Society (RAS) and the International Federation of Robotics (IFR). The award recognizes outstanding achievements in commercializing innovative Robot and Automation Technology. The award receives a $2000 prize and plaque.
The judging panel composed of three distinguished members from each of the IEEE and the IFR selected three finalists:
- Barrett Technology Inc, www.barrett.com, Cambridge MA, USA (Bill Townsend and Gill Pratt) for the Development of a Revolutionary Servomotor Technology,
- Yaskawa Electric Corporation, www.motoman.com, (Masahiro Ogawa): Next Generation Robot - Motoman-SDA10, and
- Cyberdyne Robot Suit HAL (Hybrid Assistive Limbs), (Yoshiyuki Sankai) for a wearable suit that expands, enhances, and supports the physical capabilities of its user.
The finalists each gave a presentation of their innovations and entrepreneurial achievements to the high-expert audience during the Industrial Forum that was organised in conjunction with the IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation, the largest robotics conference in the world. The Forum also featured distinguished lectures from
- Rüdiger Dillmann (University of Karlsruhe, Germany): Recent Robotics Research and Development in Europe,
- Ren C. Luo (National Taiwan University, Taiwan): The Development of Intelligent Robotics with Focus on Asia, and
- Katsu Yamane (Disney Research Pittsburgh, USA): Introducing Disney Research, Pittsburgh.
Following the IERA award finalists’ presentations, the judging panel and audience asked challenging questions. The panel came to unanimous conclusion that Cyberdyne - Robot Suit HAL was the winner of the IERA 2009 award.
IEEE-RAS President Prof. Bruno Siciliano presented certificates to all finalists and the winner’s certificate to Prof. Yoshiyuki Sankai, CEO and Founder of Cyberdyne.
Prof. Siciliano said that all the finalists were fine examples of exquisite innovations and demonstrated significant entrepreneurial excellence. The winner Cyberdyne is an exciting start-up company with a new game changing technology. The Robot Suit HAL is a break-through concept that is expected to be applied in a wide range of fields such as rehabilitation support, physical training support in medical field, support for disabled people, heavy labor support in factories, as well as in the entertainment industry. Cyberdyne has managed to attract substantial investment capital within 5 years with a major R&D facility in Japan, and with plans to expand internationally.
Prof. Sankai is also professor and director of the Cybernics Laboratory at Tsukuba University in Japan. Cyberdyne is an entrepreneurial spinoff from the University. As according to Prof. Sankai, HAL is “capable of expanding, enhancing, improving and supporting the physical capabilities of its user simply by wearing it.”
When a person tries to move his/her body, nerve signals are sent from the brain to the muscles via motor-neuron. During these moments, very weak bio-electrical signals can be detected on the surface of the skin. HAL obtains these signals through sensors attached on the skin of the wearer. The power unit that generates the assistive power is controlled according to the signals obtained, thus moving HAL’s joints in concert with the wearer’s own movements just before the human’s movements. This allows HAL to support the wearer’s daily activities or to realize the next generation rehabilitation.
The IERA Award is jointly sponsored by the IEEE Robotics and Automation Society, which supports robotics and automation research and development and education through its publications, conferences and technical activities, and IFR, the International Federation of Robotics, and international organization of robotics manufacturers and suppliers.