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NEW YORK—In advance of their debut at the Society of Automotive Engineers World Congress in Detroit April 20, Honda gave ScientificAmerican.com a preview of two devices designed to assist the elderly and the physically disabled in walking.
View a slide show of Honda's technology in action
David Iida, a spokesperson for Honda present at the event, says the primary inspiration for the devices was the demographic shift in Japan, which has a shrinking population and the world's highest proportion of elderly people. Honda's goal: to provide automated devices such as the Stride Management Assist and the Body Weight Support Assist that will provide the aged and disabled with increased mobility.
The Stride Management Assist works by pushing and pulling the user's legs forward or backward as he or she walks. Two small, silent electric motors placed level with the hip joint power the device, which straps on to the user with three belts—one around the waist and two around each leg.
The Bodyweight Support Assist supports the weight of users rather than adding extra force to their stride. Users "sit" in a saddle connected to their shoes by leglike armatures, and the unit maintains a constant upward force toward the wearer's center of gravity, making it feel as if the user is lighter than he or she actually is.