Manufacturing giant Honda has unveiled robotic legs that can take the weight off the knees. They should prove of immense value to factory workers and elderly.
The wearable assisted walking gadget looks like a bicycle seat connected by mechanical frames to a pair of shoes.
Honda said the device is designed to support bodyweight, reduce stress on the knees and help people get up steps and stay in crouching positions.
The new design follows the presentation of the HAL - or 'hybrid assistive limb' - a battery-controlled, belted suit that helps people walk around.
Honda showed a video of its employees wearing the device as they bent to peer underneath vehicles on an assembly line.
Engineer Jun Ashihara said the machine is also useful for people flagging in long queues and running around to make deliveries.
'This should be as easy to use as a bicycle,' Ashihara said at Honda's Tokyo headquarters. 'It reduces stress, and you should feel less tired.'
To wear it, you put the seat between your legs, put on the shoes and push the on button, then just start walking around.
In a test-run for media, a reporter found it took some getting used to, but said it did support his moves.
It pushed up on his bottom when he squatted and pushed at his soles to help lift his legs when he walked.
The system has a computer, motor, gears, battery and sensors embedded in it so it responds to a person's movements, according to Honda Motor Co.
The pricing and launch date are still undecided.
Japan's No. 2 automaker will begin testing a prototype with its assembly line workers later this month for feedback.
The need for such mechanical help is expected to grow in Japan, which has one of the most rapidly aging societies in the world.
Other companies are also eyeing the potentially lucrative market of helping the weak and old get around.
Japan is among the world's leading nations in robotics technology, not only for industrial use but also for entertainment and companionship.
Earlier this year, Japanese rival Toyota Motor Corp. displayed a Segway-like ride it said was meant for old people.
Japanese robot company Cyberdyne has begun renting out in Japan the HAL - a belted device with mechanical leg braces that strap to the legs that reads brain signals to help people move about.
Honda has shown a similar but simpler belted device. It has motors on the left and right, which hook up to frames that strap at the thighs, helping the walker maintain a proper stride, Daily Mail reported.
That device, being tested at one Japanese facility, helps rehabilitation programs for the disabled, encouraging them to take steps, said spokesperson Kiyoshi Aikawa.
Honda has been carrying out research into mobility for more than a decade, introducing the Asimo humanoid in 2000.