At the same time as Honda is trying to rebuild its image as a maker of exciting cars, with confirmation of a new NSX sports flagship for 2014, it's sticking with some worthy, but relatively un-sexy developments, such as its Stride Management Assist (SMA) device.

Honda Robotics (HR), is a newly created Honda sub-division, working on all of the company's robotics technologies. It's most high-profile project to date is ASIMO (Advanced Step In Innovative Mobility), a 130cm tall humanoid robot that Honda has been evolving and improving since the first version appeared in 2000.

Honda's aim with ASIMO is to apply new robotics technologies to mass-produced products for practical application, and HR describes SMA as "A lightweight, wearable device, designed to support people with reduced walking ability."

Still a prototype, the 2.4kg device is intended to be produced in three sizes, using ergonomically designed support struts, powered by a small electric motor to make walking easier for people with weakened leg muscles. The rechargeable, lithium-ion battery provides a one hour operating time, at a 4.5km/h walking pace.

Now, Japan's National Centre for Geriatrics and Gerontology (NCGG) is including the SMA device in a new program researching the needs of people whose walking ability has declined due to aging.

Honda is providing the NCGG with 40 SMA units to be 'road tested' in selected shopping centres and designated walking paths. The trial starts late next month, and its results will help HR assess the device's current potential for broader application and availability.

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