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Cyberdyne's HAL robot suit to lead 'insurance revolution'

AIG Japan Holdings CEO Robert Noddin, left, shakes hands with Cyberdyne CEO Yoshiyuki Sankai at a press conference in Tokyo on Nov. 21.

TOKYO -- A powered exoskeleton known as HAL is poised to play a key role in what the U.S. insurer American International Group calls an "insurance revolution."

Cyberdyne, the Japanese company that developed the robotic suit, and AIG's Japanese unit said Monday they will team up to develop new insurance products using HAL, whose name is short for Hybrid Assistive Limb.

AIG is working to introduce products based on the concept of "active care" to prevent illness and accidents. At a press conference in Tokyo, Robert Noddin, CEO of AIG Japan Holdings, said he was inspired to enlist HAL after trying the suit on during a visit to Cyberdyne in Tsukuba, Ibaraki Prefecture, a year and a half ago.

When a person wearing HAL attempts to move his or her body, nerve signals are sent from the brain to the muscles. HAL detects the signals and supports the motion, enabling the wearer to readily lift a heavy object or walk with ease despite muscular weakness.

A 10-minute training program enabled Noddin to move his arms merely by thinking while closing his eyes, he recalled. He said the suit caused him no discomfort.

AIG has launched a "science team" project to familiarize itself with cutting-edge technologies that can be used to develop new insurance products based on the active-care concept. Among the products being explored are a drone-based program to find roofs that need to be repaired, and a scheme to prevent fraudulent insurance claims by means of praxeology, the study of human action.

The company is also devising insurance policies in anticipation of widespread use of self-driving cars.

AIG's science teams were initially established in places including Silicon Valley. Studies by a team founded in Japan three years ago led to the business collaboration with Cyberdyne.

Cyberdyne founder Yoshiyuki Sankai, a professor at the University of Tsukuba, said AIG, which operates in more than 100 countries and regions, can help promote HAL globally.

The current deal between the two companies is limited to casualty insurance, and negotiations for the development of new insurance products have yet to start. Noddin said the partnership hopes to clarify their joint efforts early next year.

In September, Cyberdyne announced an alliance with Daido Life Insurance to develop a health insurance product that will use HAL for physical therapy.

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