Yoshiyuki Sankai is a professor of engineering at Tsukuba University in Ibaraki Prefecture and a front-runner in the field of "cybernics," which combines robotics with a wide array of academic disciplines, including neurology, information technology, behavioral science and psychology. Now aged 48, he is most famous for developing HAL, a "robot suit" that moves with its wearer by detecting the subtle electrical changes in muscles as they move. HAL (no relation to the "killer" computer in Stanley Kubrick's famed movie, "2001: A Space Odyssey"), which stands for "hybrid assistive limb," can help wearers to perform tasks they would not normally be capable of, such as lifting 180 kg on a leg-press machine, or assist those with disabilities in numerous ways.

What can we expect in robotics in 2007?

So far, some prototypes have been released, following a turning point in robotics in 2005 when the government, led by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, decided we should move on from the exploration of basic technologies and start making prototypes, and also standardize our technologies, both hardware and software, to foster the development of robots. In 2007, several organizations will start test-marketing robot products.