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.

That's because — courtesy of those students and their teachers — I'm getting a lift from an aptly named 9-kg bionic "muscle suit" I'd been fitted with, and which is fixed to my hips, arms and shoulders by a waistband and straps.