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There are friendly smiles on the faces of the engineering students peering past their PCs and half-finished gadget designs in the Tokyo lab as I try to lift 40 kg of rice. Normally I’d worry about impending humiliation, but today I’m confident my ego will remain intact.

After I squat down and a student loads bags of grain onto my outstretched arms, he presses a switch and there’s the sound of a release of air as my hips are propelled forward and my legs straighten until I’m upright — my load as light as a feather.

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