A look back at GE’s decade-spanning search for a man-powered robot suit

In 1959, Robert Heinlein gave the world exoskeleton-clad soldiers in Starship Troopers. The idea of an augmented worker or supersoldier, though, wasn’t limited to fiction. A year before Starship Troopers was published, GE engineer Albert Mosher had unveiled the first of a series of prototypes he hoped would marry the dexterity of humans with the power of machines. Called Handyman, it consisted of two parts: a pair of claw-tipped robotic arms and a corresponding pair of handles that reached over the shoulders of a human operator. When the operator moved his arms, the robot would follow suit — pictures at the excellent Cybernetic Zoo repository show it rolling a hula hoop or swinging a hammer.