Yusuke Terada is a Japanese YouTuber with cerebral palsy. Health Tech World editor spoke to him from Japan to find out all about the wearable Cyberdyne cyborg that has changed his life.
Yusuke is 31 and was born cerebral palsy, which means he is largely reliant on a wheelchair.
However, in recent years he has entered a whole new world of independence thanks to HAL (Hybrid Assistive Limb), the world’s first wearable cyborg.
HAL, which was developed by tech firm Cyberdyne, works by using sensors attached to the skin’s surface. When a person tries to move, the brain sends a signal to the muscle to make the movement.
At that time, a faint signal reflecting the wearer’s intention to move appears on the skin’s surface. Using sensors attached to the skin’s surface, HAL detects these bio-electrical signals to perform the desired movements with the wearer’s voluntary commands.
Yusuke said: “I’ve always been on the look-out for various forms of rehabilitation, although not necessarily robotics, and about a year ago, a friend introduced me to Cyberdyne’s Robocare Centre and HAL.
“The first time I went to the facility to try out the technology, I was amazed. Previously, when I wanted to stand up out of my wheelchair, I had to hold onto something solid to support me.
However, after training for just 10 minutes with HAL, I was able to do that without using my hand at all – it made such a difference.”
Yusuke added that one of the key drivers in his search for rehabilitation was the birth of his son, and his fears that he wouldn’t be able to play a full part in parenting him.
He said: “HAL has really changed my life, and my family’s. When I first met HAL, I had just become a father, and I was worried I wouldn’t have any role in raising my child.
“My original goal was always to be able to hold my son, and so I would practice holding a 10kg bag of rice.
“After training for three months with the technology, for the first time in my life I was able to stand up while holding my child – my entire family was very moved by that.”
It is not just in matters of parenting that HAL has changed his life; Yusuke says his body strength is continually improving through using the technology.
He said: “As an example, I was living with my wife and son on the fifth floor of a tower block.
“One day, a fire alarm went off while my wife was away, so it was just me and my son, who was six months old, alone in the apartment.
“Obviously, you can’t use lifts when there’s a fire alarm, and so I was really panicking for a moment. However, I handed my son over to another resident to look after them for a while, and then I made my way down the stairs, hanging on to the handrails.
“Without training with HAL, it would have taken a really long time, but, thanks to the work I’ve been doing, I was able to get downstairs and back to my son pretty quickly.”
In recent years, Yusuke has made a name for himself as a YouTuber. Previously, he also dabbled with comedy, inspired by England’s very own Mr Bean.
He said: “In 2012, I spent a year studying in London – it was the year of the Olympics – and I became aware of the character of Mr Bean.
“Now, in Japan we always felt that disability was delicate issue, and no one was really willing to make fun of it.
“In England, I saw that Mr Bean made fun of people with eyesight disorders, for example; it was a really unique approach on disability and comedy. It was then that I decided to become a comedian and try to combat discomfort with laughter.”
However, his forays into the comedy world were unsuccessful; each time he stepped on stage, he found he was too nervous to perform.
Then, in 2018, Yusuke discovered YouTube.
He set up his own channel, Teradake-TV, to provide information on disabilities, barrier-free environments, minorities, and diversity through various YouTube projects and interviews with people with disabilities.
He said: “My YouTube channel is a way to send out positive messages about talent, disability and diversity.
“After discovering HAL, my life has become so much richer, and I want to help more people become aware of such technology, so their lives can become richer as well.
“I feel that there are lots of people who feel down because of their disability, or after accidents, so if I can share this cutting-edge technology with them, I feel I can make an influence on their lives as well.”
Yusuke has visited a number of Cyberdyne Robocare Centers around Japan. It was at one of these that his big goal, standing up while holding his son, was achieved.
In June he moved to Nagano Prefecture, where there are no facilities using the wearable cyborg technology.
He said: “I haven’t been using HAL so much in recent times, so I have found that my physical condition is slightly getting worse than before.
“However, my wife has now decided to start her own business offering the technology, allowing me – and others – to continue to benefit from it.
“It’s changed my life so I know it can change others’ too.”