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ACM TechNews is published every week on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.


ACM TechNews is intended as an objective news digest for busy IT Professionals. Views expressed are not necessarily those of either Thunderstone or ACM. To send comments, please write to technews@hq.acm.org.
Volume 7, Issue 863: Friday, November 4, 2005

  • "Cerf and Kahn Receive Presidential Medal of Freedom"
    ACM (11/04/05) Gold, Virginia

    Vinton G. Cerf and Robert E. Kahn, winners of ACM's 2004 A. M. Turing Award, are recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Nation's highest civil award, the White House announced today. Cerf and Kahn were awarded the Turing Award, considered the "Nobel Prize of Computing," for pioneering work on the design and implementation of the Internet's basic communications protocols. The Presidential Medal of Freedom announcement said Cerf and Kahn "have been at the forefront of a digital revolution that has transformed global commerce, communication, and entertainment." President Bush will honor the recipients at a White House ceremony on Wednesday, November 9, 2005. To view Cerf and Kahn's recent Turing Award lecture, visit:
    http://beansidhe.isc-net.upenn.edu:8080/ramgen/seas/turing.rm
    To view the live Internet webcast, your computer must have RealPlayer (version 8 or higher).

  • "Taking Measure of Supercomputer Architectures"
    HPC Wire (11/04/05) Vol. 14, No. 44

    Researchers from Berkeley Lab's Computing Sciences branches are studying existing high-performance computers to determine the best architectures for the supercomputers of the future. At the top of the field currently are IBM's Blue Gene, Earth Simulator, and the Cray X1. The researchers are running benchmarks and Department of Energy scientific applications to determine which architecture is actually the best performer, hype notwithstanding. In the first phase of their study, the group tested the 5,120-processor Earth Simulator, an IBM Power3, a Power4, an SGI Altix 3000 system, and a Cray X1. "This effort relates to the fact that the gap between peak and actual performance for scientific codes keeps growing," said project leader Lenny Oliker. The team put the supercomputers through tests of the Cactus astrophysics code, the GTC Vlasov-Poisson equation application, the LBMHD plasma physics program, and the PARATEC code. Earth Simulator ran the applications in parallel faster than any other system, though Oliker noted that it was only suited to vector architectures. Oliker said that none of the supercomputers was ideally suited to the whole range of scientific applications, and allowed for the possibility of a future that would blend heterogeneous architectures. The map-making algorithm program MADCAP was especially challenging, as it did not scale to Earth Simulator, and while Cray offered the fastest runtimes, it did so at the expense of parallel efficiency. In a paper summarizing their conclusions of the MADCAP trials, the group wrote, "Our results highlight the complex interplay between the problem size, architectural paradigm, interconnect, and vendor-supplied numerical libraries, while isolating the I/O file system as the key bottleneck across all the platforms."
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  • "Brazil's Bumpy Road to the Low-Cost PC"
    CNet (11/03/05); Rebelo, Paulo

    For six years, Brazil has been looking to deliver an inexpensive computer to its multitude of impoverished citizens to reduce illiteracy, improve the economy, and bolster the country's emerging technology industry. The various initiatives, however, have met with bureaucratic red tape, technical complications, and internal political dissent. Computer for Everyone is the most recent undertaking, and has failed to catch on with either consumers or manufacturers. Brazil's repeated failures portend a similar fate for other programs seeking to make technology affordable, such as the $100 laptop program being developed at MIT. AMD and Microsoft have provided scaled down, inexpensive hardware and software, respectively, though their offerings have been met with muted enthusiasm. Latin America is a burgeoning market for technology, as PC shipments increased by 22 percent in the third quarter of last year, due partially to dropping prices, increased consumer spending, and an initiative sponsored by the Chilean government. Still, poverty is a significant barrier to the widespread adoption of technology, as the income from a minimum wage job in Brazil totals just $120 a month. Shipping costs and taxes unique to Brazil bring technology further out of reach. A prototype of the Popular PC debuted in 2001, containing a flash drive instead of CD-ROM and floppy drives. After proving functionally untenable, the government pursued a more traditional approach, though the price soared to $600. The Computer for Everyone program offers manufacturers a tax break, and allows consumers to purchase their PCs through installment plans. Under the proposal, the government has only received a few applications, and the price remains around $600, with an additional $4 a month for Internet service. The current phase of debate centers on whether to use a Windows or Linux operating system.
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  • "NASA Science, Technology to Be Showcased in Seattle"
    SpaceRef.com (11/03/05)

    ACM-sponsored International Conference of High Performance Computing, Networking, and Storage (SC05), to be held in Seattle this month, will be centered around the theme "Gateway to Discovery," and will draw representatives from throughout the technological world. The conference will feature some of the complex hurricane modeling and on-orbit support applications of Columbia, NASA's SGI Altix supercomputer containing 10,240 processors. The conference will feature presentations from NASA's four mission directorates: science, aeronautics research, exploration systems, and space operations. One exhibit will feature the Goddard Earth Observing System models, which use the Columbia system to model climatic events in the Atlantic Ocean, helping inform meteorologists as they tracked hurricanes Katrina and Rita. NASA's exhibit will also showcase the use of supercomputers to provide real-time analysis of a space shuttle's heat shield as it prepares for re-entry through experimental testing in wind tunnels. Also featured will be Columbia's atomic-scale simulations that formulate ideal configurations of nanopore devices capable of accelerated DNA sequencing, allowing NASA to monitor the health of its astronauts and identify the presence of extraterrestrial organisms, as well as examining the genetic workings of diseases. The conference will be held from Nov. 12-18.
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  • "Group Suggests a 'Denationalization' of ICANN"
    IDG News Service (11/03/05); Blau, John

    The Internet Governance Project, a group of academics that includes Syracuse University's Milton Mueller and the Georgia Institute of Technology's Hans Klein, has released a report recommending the "denationalization" of ICANN, which would involve releasing the organization from much of the U.S. supervision to which it is currently bound under a memorandum of understanding with the U.S. Department of Commerce. The solution is designed to quell some of the arguments over Internet governance that have arisen from the United States' involvement in ICANN, which has been criticized by other nations. Delegates to the second World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), scheduled for Nov. 16 in Tunis, are concerned that these arguments will overshadow the original intent of the summit-- to expand the reach of the Internet into developing countries. The academics are recommending that the United States end its political oversight of ICANN but retain its policy authority over the DNS root zone file. They argue that U.S. oversight of ICANN policy and management does not enhance the technical security and stability of the Internet.
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  • "New Web-Based Technology Draws Applications, Investors"
    Wall Street Journal (11/03/05) P. B1; Mangalindan, Mylene; Buckman, Rebecca

    The new Web-based technology known as Ajax supports a host of applications that are enjoying increasing popularity from users and investors. One Ajax-based application, Meebo, allows anyone connected to the Internet to send instant messages through major providers such as AOL, Yahoo, and Microsoft without having to download the software. Ajax brings a responsiveness typically reserved for desktop applications to Web-based programs, eliminating the painful slowness that comes from refreshing a Web page each time a new operation is performed, as Ajax only updates select chunks of data instead of the whole screen. Despite some concerns raised by analysts, Microsoft remains confident that the new breed of faster Web-based programs will not mount a significant challenge to its pervasive desktop products such as Office. Ajax powers Google Maps, which enables a user to scroll across great distances of a map without ever refreshing the screen. Ajax owes its origins to Microsoft, which began developing the technology in 1998 to enhance Internet Explorer. Microsoft has expressed its renewed commitment to Ajax, and many startups drawing on the funds of eager venture capitalists have emerged specializing in the technology. Despite the frenzied atmosphere surrounding the potential of Ajax to supplant many existing desktop applications, some of the startups remain skeptical about its ability to rewrite the rules of computing, while others downplay its impact and view the flurry of speculation as largely misplaced. Ajax "makes our site more useful to our users, but it won't support 100 new public companies," said Yahoo Shopping's Rob Solomon.
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  • "MIT Wireless Network Tracks Info on Users"
    Associated Press (11/03/05); Donald, Brooke

    A new online tracking system at MIT enables students to instantly view how many others are logged onto the network at any given spot across the entire campus of 9.4 million square feet, thus enabling a user to remotely observe how crowded a particular cafe or area of the library is. In the event that a user has made his identity available, it would also be accessible through the new mapping system, which tracks the movements of students' laptops, PDAs, and Wi-Fi-enabled cell phones, or any other device connected to the network around the clock. Researchers from the MIT's SENSEable City Laboratory produced the maps displaying students' movements from the log files of the school's Internet service provider, which collect data from the 2,800 access points on the campus and display the information in three dimensions so that users on different floors of a building can be distinguished. Designed to show how work habits are changing, the maps have demonstrated that, thanks to wireless connectivity, study labs have given way to more comfortable settings such as cafes and lounges, where students can enjoy food and overstuffed chairs. Cities such as Philadelphia that are undertaking municipal Wi-Fi initiatives stand to learn from the study where people are most comfortable working; it could also be used as census conducted in real time. Not surprisingly, many have raised privacy concerns about the tracking system, though only the users who opt into the program will have their identities available for public viewing.
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  • "Building a Personalized Network of Digital Devices"
    IST Results (11/03/05)

    The IST-funded program ePerSpace is seeking to deliver the long-promised integration that will bring every device we use into personalized and location-based harmony. Integrating a coffee maker, an alarm clock, and a cell phone and dispatching them on a common mission--say, to deliver a traveler to the airport on time--is confounded by technical issues at every step as telecom, electronics, software, and media content companies are a disparate and often incompatible multitude. To resolve this, ePerSpace offers a comprehensive network of the major players in the European technology arena. Through ePerSpace, a user specifies his preferences in TV, music, and news, and supplies information about friends and family to link to his calendar. Once the profile is created, it lives on a Home Gateway, the hardware that is the central nervous system of the user's digital life, communicating constantly with the extended network. The central improvement ePerSpace offers over previous attempts at personalized networking is the simplicity of managing the profile. A user can make changes to his profile from any networked device, regardless of its location. The Gateway connects with every application in the profile, so the user can manage his banking, gym membership, video, news, and travel schedule from a single point. Each device contains software that identifies itself and defines its format, which has been the central challenge to creating the gateway, as each device gathers and presents data differently, though tying them together through software is critical to avoid the problems that arise when devices attempt to communicate on the fly. The researchers are also working within the regulatory framework of the EU to ensure privacy and security concerns are addressed, which will define the next phase of the project.
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  • "Fatal Flaw Weakens RFID Passports"
    Wired News (11/03/05); Schneier, Bruce

    As the State Department continues to press for implanting RFID chips in passports, it has attempted to assuage the concerns of privacy advocates with assurances that the tags are only meant to be read at close ranges. It originally overlooked the fact that while the intended range is only a few inches, the maximum range at which the tags could be read it 69 feet, and with specialized equipment, that distance could be much longer. Further, as the technology improves, those distances will only increase. To address these concerns, the State Department will now offer RFID passports with a shield that will block out radio signals to prevent snooping. However, as passports are being used more frequently as an all-purpose identification card, the State Department has added an access control feature to ensure that encrypted data in the RFID tag can only be read by those given authorization by the passport's holder. While this alleviates many of the concerns about a traveler's identity being stolen through his RFID tag or terrorists targeting tourists whom they identify as Americans through the tags in their passports, RFID chips can still be detected through their radio behavior. Each chip contains a unique identification number that is used to prevent signal collision with other chips. Since researchers have demonstrated how to query these numbers and monitor their behavior, the State Department must develop a method of avoiding RFID collisions that are based on something other than unique serial numbers. While the addition of chips to passports will undoubtedly make it more difficult to forge and use stolen passports, they must be secure for their carriers. While the State Department may be able to address the specific collision flaw, without open and public scrutiny of its design, it remains unclear what other flaws may still be discovered.
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  • "Europe Readies Next Stage of Embedded Software Research"
    EE Times (11/02/05); Holland, Colin

    Europe is gearing up for its transition from ITEA by scheduling its first ITEA 2 Call for Projects for next year. ITEA 2 is a follow-up to the cooperative research and development program in software-intensive systems that Europe launched in 1999 and extended another eight years through Dec. 31, 2008. ITEA marks Europe's effort to make a commitment to embedded and distributed systems. With ITEA 2, the vision "for Europe to maintain leadership in this new era of embedded software-intensive systems (SIS) and services building on key European strengths and industries" has been brought up to date with a global context in mind. More than 450 partners from companies, research groups, and academia in 23 countries participated in ITEA, which has completed 42 of 85 projects that have resulted in new products and companies. ITEA 2 is expected to benefit from the contribution of more than 20,000 person-years over the next eight years, up from 9,500 person-years for ITEA, and an increase in more than $3 billion.
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  • "OASIS Committee to Tackle Semantic Web Services"
    IDG News Service (11/02/05); Kirk, Jeremy

    The Web standards group OASIS (the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards) has decided to study ways to apply semantics and the Semantic Web to service-oriented systems rather than pursue the development of a specification at this time. OASIS has created the Semantic Execution Environment Technical Committee (SEE) in an effort to improve the accuracy of the description of data in Web pages, which would help improve the sharing and retrieving of computer applications. The World Wide Web Consortium's Semantic Web, Owl (Ontology Working Language), and Topic Maps will be among the standards evaluated by SEE. The first SEE meeting is scheduled for Nov. 11, 2005, and is open to companies, nonprofit groups, and individuals.
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  • "Teaching Tech to Girls Can Open Doors"
    Bay Area Business Women (10/05); Butler, Kristin

    Enabling young girls to take apart computers in an environment that encourages exploration and not competition is the type of experience that could eventually lead more young women to pursue careers in science, engineering, and technology, according to a recent report by the American Association of University Women's Commission on Technology, Gender, and Teacher Education. Girls Inc. of the Island City in Alameda, Calif., provides that experience for young girls through its Tinker-Town project. The report, "Tech-Savvy: Educating Girls in the New Computer Age," says more girls have to be exposed to technology at a young age, and the opinions of girls and women--to change the way science and math are taught in school and the way toys and games are marketed and used--must be listened to closely. Science, math, and technology are not connecting with the values that girls hold, and that is largely the reason why women are underrepresented in such fields, according to the report. And the stereotype that work in these areas is isolating, tedious, and the domain of men does not help. "Research shows that once girls feel confident about their skills in computers and technology and have a genuine interest in these subjects, they successfully transfer their abilities into co-ed settings, bringing their ideas and interests with them," says Tristen Frederickson, program director at Girls Inc.
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  • "Congress Divided on Broadcast Flag Plan"
    CNet (11/03/05); Broache, Anne

    Legislators' response to a congressional plan to bring back "broadcast flag" copy-prevention technology unveiled at a Nov. 3 hearing was divided between those who thought it was a good idea and those who regarded it as premature. Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.) cited concerns that the current proposals are unreasonably restrictive, expressing his puzzlement as to why news and public affairs programs should be flagged, according to one proposal. Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), on the other hand, argued that Congress has a duty to prevent "abusive use of technology." FCC regulations mandating the use of broadcast flags were rejected by a federal court earlier this year, while the entertainment industry warned that the transition to digital TV transmission will make copyrighted content available on the Internet and open up new piracy opportunities without adequate protection. One proposal requests that Congress authorize the FCC to reinstate the video broadcast flag; another suggests a new broadcast flag for digital radio; and still another asks for a ban on consumer devices designed to convert copy-protected digital content to analog, remove the copy protections, and then convert it back to digital. Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) acknowledged that lawmakers should support protection for copyright holders, but not if it means hindering innovation or limiting consumer rights. Public Knowledge President Gigi Sohn said, "There are far better alternatives to the heavy-handed technology mandates proposed today. They include a multipronged approach of consumer education, enforcement of copyright laws and use of technological tools developed in the marketplace."
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  • "Sun Shines on Open Source DRM Development"
    EContent (11/01/05)

    Sun Microsystems has unveiled an open source project that seeks to offer a DRM solution that is more friendly to digital content creators and users, although Sun is not necessarily looking to do away with DRM. At the Progress & Freedom Foundation's Aspen Summit, Sun touted its Open Media Commons initiative, a cross-industry effort to move toward a royalty-free rights management standard for digital content. "Sun believes that content should be licensed to the individual, regardless of what device that person is using--a concept that we call 'personal rights management,'" says Sun Labs' Glenn Edens. As a start, Sun is now offering Sun Labs' internal Project DReaM collection of DRM software available under the Common Development and Distribution License (CDDL). Project DReaM includes DRM-OPERA, Java Stream Assembly, and Sun Streaming Server. Still, Sun's vision would not become a reality unless the DRM makers change their policies for playing content licensed by outside sources, and organizations such as the Recording Industry Association of America and the Motion Picture Industry Association of America would have to embrace the DRM solution.
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  • "E-Voting Grows Without Consensus"
    Computerworld (10/31/05) P. 53; Songini, Marc L.

    A U.S. General Accounting Office report suggesting the U.S. Election Assistance Commission should establish security policies for electronic voting systems and an e-voting machine certification program has sparked complains from state and local election officials that they lack best practice guidance to buy and implement the technology. State and local governments only have until the first election after Jan 1, 2006, to install e-voting machines at every polling station, or run afoul of the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) and face deadline penalties. "The [GAO] report buttresses what we've been saying," says Ion Sancho, supervisor for elections for Leon County, Fla. "There are concerns [that] need to be addressed." Among those concerns is the possibility of electronic and human error. In addition to security and accuracy, election officials are concerned about the reliability of e-voting systems and the issue of having systems provide a paper trail. Matthew Zimmerman, staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation in San Francisco, says the governments are rushing into buying e-voting gear in the absence of state or federal criteria.
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  • "The Blue Hats"
    eWeek (10/31/05) Vol. 22, No. 43, P. 22; Roberts, Paul F.

    Security experts who once laughed off Microsoft's IT security improvement efforts have had a change of heart as the company emerges as a model for the industry and a key proponent for secure development. Instrumental to the success of Microsoft's Trustworthy Computing initiative is the priority the company places on tapping the work, expertise, and magnanimity of independent security researchers. Tactics for fomenting goodwill between security experts and Microsoft include company-sponsored Blue Hat conferences where executives can pick the brains of hackers on vulnerability detection and exploitation techniques. "Blue Hat is just part of a larger picture, which is a really broad effort to make Microsoft accessible," says independent security consultant Adam Shostack. "Pretty much any [security] conference you go to, there's a Microsoft presence." The Trusted Computing initiative's overriding concern is increasing developers' knowledge to eliminate easily exploited bugs, according to Microsoft security program manager Mike Howard. Independent security expert Tom Ferris notes that Microsoft representatives treat researchers with respect, and comport themselves in a polite and courteous manner. This is a far cry from earlier perceptions of company reps as icy and rude toward people who report vulnerabilities.
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  • "Battle for the Future of Mobile Broadband"
    New Scientist (10/29/05) Vol. 188, No. 2523, P. 26; Marks, Paul

    WiMAX offers the potential to provide broadband Internet access to remote locations geographically distant from telephone exchanges. WiMAX technology can draw broadband access from several miles away though a small rooftop dish connected to a modem. Intel has put together a coalition devoted to the advancement of WiMAX technologies, which have an obvious appeal to rural areas and countries with underdeveloped infrastructures. Others argue that WiMAX's ability is overstated, and that the marketing clout that Intel delivers by virtue simply of its size could retard the development of other technologies. WiMAX claims speeds up to 75 Mbps at frequencies ranging between 2 and 11 GHz, though at the higher end of that spectrum the microwaves act more like light, and as such require a clear line of sight. WiMAX operates on the fixed 802.16d standard in Europe, and the 802.16e mobile standard is expected to be ratified by March 2006 by the IEEE. Standardization of the technology is expected to bring down the prices of both equipment and service, which should lead to a broader implementation in poorer areas. The controversy surrounds the new version, whose bandwidth and distance claims have been criticized as exaggerated. Alcatel says the WiMAX Forum's claimed speed of 70 Mbps is inflated, and that when a signal is in use by an average number of users in a given cell, the speed drops to between 512 Kbps and 1.54 Mbps, which offers scant advantage over third-generation cell phones or laptops with a third-generation modem card. Regulatory issues will be a significant challenge to the adoption of WiMAX in Europe, as microwave frequencies will have to be made available for WiMAX users to be able to communicate with each other, and they may not be resolved before the end of the decade. WiMAX also faces the significant challenge of becoming truly mobile in the same manner that cell phones are.
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  • "Information Takes Shape"
    Discover (10/05) Vol. 26, No. 10; Suplee, Curt

    The mismatched progressions of the sheer volume of information available and our understanding of it have given rise to a new field of research, known as data exploration, which draws on information science, mathematics, and software design to create order out of expansive repositories of data. Topology, the mathematical examination of shapes, offers great potential for sophisticated data exploration, as conventional graphs and charts that are presented in the second and third dimension offer only limited expressions of information. More complex models of higher dimensions may be imperceptible to humans, but when applied using sophisticated software, they can reveal complex patterns and relationships among data. Stanford researcher Gunnar Carlsson, a mathematician by trade, became interested in topology when he learned of a diabetes experiment in which each subject was represented by five metrics, which equated to dimensions in his mind. The data were presented in a three-dimensional form, which confirmed the hypothesis of the researchers, but Carlsson now seeks to bring computational models of higher dimensions into the equation. Carlsson is experimenting with multidimensional analysis in conjunction with the data being gathering by a team of neuroscientists monitoring the brain activity of macaque monkeys. Presenting data topologically, where dozens or hundreds of dimensions are represented, could offer important insights on how to synthesize data from a digital camera that could instruct a robot to conduct tasks that demand object identification, such as cleaning up a bar. One of the greatest demands for sophisticated data processing comes from the Large Hadron Collider near Geneva, which records 40 million subatomic particle collision a second, creating 2,000 PB each year.
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  • "The Rise of the Body Bots"
    IEEE Spectrum (10/05) Vol. 42, No. 10, P. 50; Guizzo, Erico; Goldstein, Harry

    Asian and U.S. institutions are developing exoskeletons that integrate the strength and dexterity of machines with the decision-making skills of human beings. Most of the exoskeletons are designed to help injured or enfeebled people rehabilitate or become more mobile, while their augmented strength and adaptability to terrain hint at the technology's potential applications for firefighters, search and rescue operations, construction workers, and others. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is funding projects at Sarcos Research and the University of California, Berkeley, that demonstrate the feasibility of robotic exoskeletons designed to help soldiers carry more weight while marching faster and longer without sacrificing agility. The prototypes these efforts have yielded could be turned into actual military tools through collaboration with Army research groups, according to University of Kentucky professor John Main. Practical exoskeleton technology has taken time to emerge because only recently has computer processing, energy supplies, and actuators matured enough to support the desired functionality. Berkeley's exoskeleton effort has led to the development of Bleex 2, an agile system that lets users walk and run while bearing heavy loads. Sarcos, meanwhile, has devised a full-bodied system with powered robotic arms and legs that enables users to carry 84 kilograms with no sensation of payload. Japan is expected to be the first major exoskeleton adopter because of its rapidly aging population, coupled with a scarcity of caregivers; the first commercially available exoskeleton will be Cyberdyne's HAL-5, a full-body suit that helps the elderly and physically disabled to walk.
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