4.15.2009

Exoskeletal Rundown

This Week In Technology

Exoskeletons seem to be everywhere I turn these days.  

Engadget has posted several stories in the last week about independently powered exoskeletons.  

The first came a few days ago with a story about the ominously named Japanese corporation Cyberdyne's new HAL (Hybrid Assistive Limb) suit.  The suit appears to be primarily geared towards heavy lifting.  Cyberdyne claims the suit will increase a users strength by ten times.  This is also one of the rare exoskeleton suits I've seen that use nerve impulse readers to operate, rather than a push/pull interface or joystick.  The suit uses pads that read the biosignals generated for muscle movement and interprets them into the movements of the suit.  The HAL suit will set a wearer back a cool $4200.  Which, honestly, considering that this thing could allow someone to lift a car, single-handedly, is kinda affordable.

And just the other day was this post shows a device more geared toward assistive living, rather than enhancement.  This particular product is from Honda is designed to help people walk.  Let the video speak for itself:


Bruce Sterling mentions an exoskeletal work suit called 'boneware' in his new novel The Caryatids.


And let's not forget the most famous exoskeletal suit of all:


Ripley's Power Loader from Aliens

4.08.2009

TWITpost - Cyberpunk Month Continues

Time once again for This Week In Technology.

In keeping with our April Cyberpunk theme, I couldn't help but marvel at the fortune of finding Bruce Sterling's new novel on the new releases shelf at my library. Bruce Sterling for the uninitiated is often mentioned in the same breath as William Gibson and all of the other luminaries of the sub-genre. In short, he's totally O.G.

I haven't really read much by him, to be honest. Aside from his short story that appeared in Burning Chrome. His new novel, The Caryatids, published in February, isn't specifically referred to as cyberpunk, but the jacket cover does mention William Gibson and Neal Stephenson in the first sentence.

I have only just begun the book, so I can't really talk much about the plot, but in the first 25 pages there have already been numerous references to nanotech-based sensorwebs, exoskeletal suits called boneware, orbital cities, and of course, cloning (which I suspect is a pivotal/central aspect of the book). If that sounds interesting to you, I recommend checking it out. No pun intended.

Next up we have a trailer for a short film that also fits nicely into the cyberpunk sub-genre. Turbo is a movie by USC graduate student Jarrett Conaway. Essentially, this shoe-string budget, digitally made special effects extravaganza is about video games. The 20-minute film has all the trappings of cyberpunk from anime haircuts, to mirror shades, gesture-based interfaces, virtual competitions and meatspace brawls. Think of the fighting game played in 2005's The Island, only not lame or sponsored by Xbox.


It was reported this week that Japan is aiming to send bipedal robots to the moon by the year 2020. The idea is still in the planning stages and will be formulated over the next two years. My affinity for all things robotic aside, I think this is a great plan. Call me crazy but it makes a lot more sense to send a robot to the moon rather than a person. I'm not so sure about the bipedal part though. How do you make sure that a bipedal robot stays on it's feet in low gravity? I suppose if a Segway can do it, then so can Asimo, but what's wrong with a lunar rover?

Following up from last week's post. I received my blu-ray copies of Akira and Blade Runner and while I haven't yet had a chance to watch them, I popped them in just to check out the video quality and am very excited for the feature presentation. Akira looks great and sounds even better, even on my sound-system-less TV. I was a little disappointed that the aspect ratio is not anamorphic, but that might have something to do with the original print.

Blade Runner is unbelievably stunning. Having just watched the DVD version, the improvements are made to the remastered blu-ray are like night and day. I read somewhere that the fidelity of this new release is such that people watching it may have a better theatrical experience than those that went out see the film in theaters back in 1982. I'm inclined to agree. The special effects look amazing and the cityscapes breathtaking. It is truly going to be like seeing this film for the first time.

4.01.2009

April is Cyberpunk Month!

A couple years ago, I declared that April would be the month that we celebrate the science fiction sub-genre known as cyberpunk. It started out as just an excuse to wile away my least favorite month with my favorite kind of fiction. Now, it's something I look forward to every year, as both an opportunity to re-enjoy my favorites but also catch-up on old classics I may not have gotten around to yet.

First Encounter

My first encounter with cyberpunk came fairly early, I remember an attempted viewing of Blade Runner at my library when I was in middle school (I say attempted, because I only made it 25 minutes into the film before I gave up) and of course Akira was standard viewing for any science fiction fan in the 90's. Although at that time, I didn't realize that Akira was considered cyberpunk and more importantly, I didn't even know what cyberpunk was. Even now, it is a description-defying genre that can be simultaneously nebulous and discriminating. I generally hold an all encompassing view of cyberpunk in that anything that has near-future technology, and a conspiratorial tone can be included.

So, the seeds had been planted with Blade Runner and Akira and there were also some smaller works like Strange Days and the unfortunate Johnny Mnemonic (film), but it wasn't until 1997 that the plant began to sprout. That was the year I skipped class with a buddy and went to see the Wesley Snipes action vampire flick Blade. I went to see the movie because it was based on a comic book I was vaguely familiar with, but I came away completely flabbergasted by the atmosphere, the bullet-time-esque special effects and the paranoia inducing conspiracy that drove the whole plot.

Yes, it's a vampire movie, but it contained some undeniably strong cyberpunk aspects. One line snarled by the eponymous Blade sums up a popular cyberpunk theme quite nicely: "You'd better wake up. The world you live in is just a sugar-coated topping. There is another world beneath it--the real world. And if you want to survive it, you'd better learn to pull the trigger."

Two years later, The Matrix was unleashed on the world (recapped perfectly in this 
article from Wired.com), and suddenly Cyberpunk was cast into my lexicon. It helped me track down classic novels like William Gibson's Neuromancer and the rest of the The Sprawl Trilogy, as well as Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash. Ironically, The Matrix opened on March 31, 1999, a fact that I had forgotten up until I read the Wired.com article, but it further gives credence to my idea of designating April as Cyberpunk Month.

This year's agenda

It seems like most years I end up going back through old works. People have been saying that Cyberpunk is dead, probably since the term was first coined.  This year, however, it seems like there will be a good balance of old works and new.

  • The Matrix has been re-released in a 10th Anniversary edition on Blu-Ray.  I already have the Ultimate box set on BD, so I'll passing on this release, but for those of you crazies out there that did not like the rest of The Matrix Trilogy, this might be for you.
  • The Prodigy just released a new album Invaders Must Die.  This group, along with The Crystal Method and Leftfield is inextricably linked in my mind to Cyberpunk, as they provided the soundtrack to my initial read through of The Sprawl Trilogy.
  • On television, we have the upcoming season finale of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, as well as Joss Whedon's new show (with only slight cyberpunk overtones) Dollhouse.
  • On the horizon is Alex Rivera's extraordinary looking Sleep Dealer.
  • And there is also talk of a new Syndicate game.


Also, be sure to check out some of these super-cool illustrations by Dan LuVisi and make a point to visit Cyberpunk Review a great website that celebrates cyberpunk all year 'round, not just one month out of the year.

On my personal agenda for this year, I will be finishing up the second season of Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex and re-watching the Ghost In The Shell movies Innocence and Solid State Society, as well as re-experiencing Blade Runner and Akira for the first time on Blu-Ray.  It will be my first time seeing the 2001 Pioneer re-dub of Akira, so I am very excited for that. 

On the literary front, I'll be going back and reading Mirrorshades, the collection of short stories compiled by Bruce Sterling and possibly checking out the Akira manga on which the movie was based.  And I'm still looking for a good video game to try that fits the genre.

So go forth and read/watch/play something Cyberpunk!  (As long as it's not a Billy Idol album because that soooo doesn't count.)