JAPANESE robotics company Cyberdyne Inc. officially launched on Wednesday its new medical technology called Hybrid Assistive Limb (HAL), reminiscent of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s costume in his 1984 smash hit film The Terminator, which is expected to help revolutionize the health-care industry in the Philippines.
Cyberdyne Inc. President and CEO Dr. Yoshiyuki Sankai said HAL is the world’s first cyborg-type robot that can bring aid and assistance to patients who have suffered traumatic spinal and/or who have been rendered immobile by stroke or other diseases.
“I believe that technology should be for the human society, and technology should always support the humans,” he told members of the local media during their official kickoff event held at Okada Manila in Parañaque City.
HAL is a wearable technology that fuses “man, machine and information.” It assists physically challenged person to move and exert bigger motor energy than usual. Considered a system, it helps accelerates a motor learning of cerebral nerves.
This technology works with sensors and artificial intelligence or AI. Being the only remedial device it is, HAL for Medical Use-Lower Limb Model teaches the brain how to move the legs and help realize the wearer’s intention, either to walk or stand up.
It reads the user’s “bio-elecetric signals”, accordingly compensates muscle power of lower limbs, and assists the patient to walk, stand up or sit-down with his or her own legs. With the freely detachable controller of HAL, the operator can manipulate all the operations, such as start/stop of assistance, alteration of settings and confirmation of motion statuses, closely watching the move of the wearer.
The Philippines is the pilot market for the launch of Cyberdyne’s HAL technology in Southeast Asia. It is exclusively distributed here by Life1 Corp. (LTC).
“I selected the Philippines to accelerate [it’s adoption, so] this technology can be spread and expand to other countries. I believe that the Asean area has a big potential to [embrace this kind of innovation],” Dr. Sankai said.
At present, HAL is available in A. Zarate General Hospital in Las Piñas, with 12 units being showcased in an in-house showroom. While HAL is not for sale, this is intended for patients’ use on a rental-basis per session to make it more accessible even for the underprivileged.
“That is very good because we do not put too much strain on the hospital or the patient. This is very important that we make it affordable,” said Life1 Corp. President and CEO Dr. Albert L. Zarate.
Since the technology’s installation two weeks ago, he bared that they have already rented it out to 17 patients of different cases for up to 90 minutes per session.
“In my hospital, I try to socialize it. It means those who have money will pay. Those with little money will pay little. We are trying to help them at least on my part,” he said, while citing their improved conditions since then.
To reach out to more people who are in need of such technology, Dr. Zarate revealed their plan to roll it out across the country’s 12 regions, plus the National Capital Region, as well as in as many public and private hospitals nationwide.
He added they intend to partner with the government, through the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) and Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO), to make the technology available even for indigent patients.
Given that President Duterte recently signed into law the Universal Health Care Act that automatically enrolls all Filipino citizens to the National Health Insurance Program, the top executive of Life1 Corp. is hopeful that HAL will be included in the expanded PhilHealth coverage.
“This technology is not only for the rich. It is for all patients afflicted with immobility, secondary to any illness—stroke, spinal cord injuries, etc.,” Dr. Zarate said. “We like this to be very accessible, just like any other medical gadget. The more we will have government support, the more it will be cheaper and accessible.”