from the left: Mr Friedrich (contec GmbH), Dr. Rosenfeld (TGR GmbH / Stadt Bochum), Prof. Sankai (Cyberdyne Inc.), Prof. Schildhauer (UK Bergmannsheil), Mrs Wassner (NRW Invest), Mr Loer (NRW Japan KK) Photo: Grosler

The future starts in Bochum

CYBERDYNE sets up German branch in the BioMedicine Centre Bochum and continues development of its “Robot Suit” at Bergmansheil University Hospital

A computer called HAL, cybernetics and robot-prostheses which are controlled by the patient’s own thoughts – this all sounds like science fiction films and TV series from the eighties. Yet this is already well on the way to becoming reality and in Bochum research is now being carried out into this for the first time in Europe.

It took a long time before Yoshiyuki Sankai was able to present his idea on real patients: nerve impulses which trigger muscle movements are measured and then used to control an external prosthesis which is attached to the body. Sankai has now become a professor, has his own institute and his own company, CYBERDYNE Inc. He has also given his robot suit a name reminiscent of science fiction: HAL®.

The applications for these futuristic prostheses are very wide-ranging. The exoskeleton can provide support for healthy people such as carers to help them lift patients and move them between beds more easily. Polio sufferers could also be enabled to use the afflicted side of their body once again by using a suit like this. In some special cases it might even be possible to help paraplegics to walk again. But at this point, Prof. Dr. Thomas A. Schildhauer, medical director at Bergmannsheil, does not wish to awaken any false hopes. In the autumn, the first ever research in Europe into the new field of “Cybernics” will be started here. Although the robot suits are already in use in many clinics in Asia, they must first be adapted to fit average European sizes and must undergo more research and optimisation. So it will take quite some time before they can be used on real patients. The 150th anniversary of the friendship and trade contract between Germany and Japan has been chosen as the right occasion to make the official announcement about founding the CYBERDYNE Inc. branch in the BioMedicine Centre in Bochum and to have it officially notarised. The partners who were involved in settling the organisation in Bochum presented themselves at a press conference: it is thanks to the close cooperation between the state economic development agency NRW.INVEST, the City of Bochum/medlands.RUHR, the University Clinic BG Bergmannsheil, contec GmbH and the Japanese Chamber of Industry and Commerce in Düsseldorf e.V. that Dr. Yoshiyuki Sankai, Managing Director of CYBERDYNE Inc. and inventor of the Robot Suit HAL®, is bringing his technology to North Rhine-Westphalia and Germany. The North Rhine-Westphalian company Bayer MaterialScience will also be working towards accelerating the development of the high-quality material for the innovative Robot Suit®.

As a representative of medlands.RUHR, Dr. Bernd Rosenfeld convincingly presented the location of Bochum in its central position in the healthcare metropole NRW as an almost ideal match to Dr. Yoshiyuki Sankai’s vision of a “medicare hub” where different stakeholders work towards putting the latest technologies to use for the good of the people. “Prof. Dr. Sankai’s and CYBERDYNE Inc.’s decision to come to our city shows us that Bochum’s significance as a location for medical technology is also growing on an international level”, Bochum’s Lord Mayor Dr. Ottilie Scholz explained. The first clinical studies with HAL® in Germany will soon be starting under Prof. Schildhauer at the Bergmannsheil University Hospital. The level of media interest in this innovative concept also shows just how significant it is. The German Press Association (dpa) report was taken up by numerous editorial offices (including Zeit, stern, Welt, Focus, WAZ) and the Süddeutsche Zeitung also reported at length about setting up the company in Bochum.

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