A Japanese quadriplegic plans to ascend the peak of a Swiss mountain by riding piggyback on a mountaineer who will get some extra muscle from a robot suit.
Seiji Uchida, 43, will take a cable car to get within striking distance of the Breithorn mountain’s summit before attempting the day-long trek this August, said Shinichiro Saigo, business manager of the With Dreams organisation that Uchida founded to support the expedition.
Uchida – left paralysed from the neck down after suffering a spinal cord injury in a 1983 traffic accident – will make the final ascent to the 13,741ft peak with the help of alpinist Ken Noguchi, 33, who will carry Uchida on his back with the aid of a robot known as HAL, Saigo said.
HAL, which stands for “hybrid assistive limb,” is a kind of wearable robot or motorised exoskeleton. Tsukuba University engineering professor Yoshiyuki Sankai developed HAL to help its operator perform tasks a normal human would not be strong enough to perform otherwise, according to the web page of Sankai’s venture company Cyberdyne.
The wearer operates HAL with normal movements and actions. Using HAL, someone who could normally lift 15-and-a-half stone a leg press machine could lift 28 stone, according to Cyberdyne.
News reports last summer about HAL and its capabilities helped Uchida conceive of the expedition, Saigo said.
Uchida had wanted to go up the Swiss Alps because a photo of the Matterhorn helped buoy his spirits during his convalescence, Saigo said. However, when he finally went to Switzerland in 1998 he could get no closer than a lake near the Matterhorn due to his disability, Saigo said.
Seeing HAL last July, though, gave Uchida the idea about how he might finally fulfil his dream, Saigo said. Noguchi, an experienced mountaineer who has climbed the “Seven Summits” – the highest peak on each of the seven continents - signed on to the project in October, he said.
Joining Uchida and Noguchi on the climb will be a second HAL-suited climber carrying Kyoga Ide, a 16-year old high school student with muscular dystrophy, according to the expedition’s website. Ide will be pulled up in a sled to the summit of the mountain, Saigo said.
The expedition team will take a cable car up the mountain and begin their ascent from about 930ft below the summit, Saigo said.
Uchida said he hopes the feat will be seen as something more than just a personal success.
“I am trying create new possibilities for the disabled as well as realise a dream,” Uchida said in a statement.
“My hope is that through this I can give courage and hope to all disabled people in difficult circumstances.”