Panasonic subsidiary unveils "slimmed down" version of robotic exoskeleton...

It’s one of the eternal questions facing anyone trying to improve their performance on the bike – doping apart, just how do you create extra power in your legs when you’ve already taken diet, training and the spec of your machine as far as feasibly possible?

Japanese consumer electronics giant Panasonic has unveiled its own solution to the problem, but we’re guessing that your competitors, not to mention race commissaries, might notice just why you’re heading up that hill so quickly.

Developed by Panasonic subsidiary Activelink, the Power Loader Light exoskeleton eschews the giant robotic arms of the full-size Power Loader and instead focuses on delivering energy to the lower half of your body – it can predict leg movement, resulting in a claimed 40 kilograms-force increase in leg strength.

While it might be a more svelte version of the original concept, you’re still looking at strapping a hefty chunk of hardware to your body, so it’s unlikely to appeal to weight weenies. Nor is there any escaping the fact that the price tag is a hefty one - $223,000 – although Panasonic is providing a grant programme to potential developers such as universities and other research institutes that could result in that reducing by 50%.

While that might just bring it within the budget of some of the wealthier pro cycling teams, it has to be said that the Power Loader isn’t quite as discreet as the fabled hidden motors that last year caused UCI scrutineers to start scanning frames.

Joking apart, it’s at least five years until a practical version of the Power Loader Light might become commercially available. But ultimately, decades from now, could the development of this technology help us stay in the saddle years after our legs have lost the strength to turn the cranks?

Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.