Big in Japan: Robots Will Take Care of Us When We’re Old

Robots are all the rage here in Japan, which is why it shouldn’t come as a surprise that they’ll probably take care of us one day when we get old.

At a home care and rehabilitation convention in Tokyo this week, commercial buyers were given a demonstration of all the latest in care-taking robot technology.

A full-body robotic suit developed by the Kanagawa Institute of Technology is powered by twenty-two pneumatic pumps, allowing the user to hoist people off their feet with ease. Sensors attached to the user’s skin detect when their muscles are straining, and subsequently signals pumps to activate, thus providing support.

Considering that nurses sometimes need to lift a heavy patient off the bed to take care of them, the numerous applications of this technology are immediately apparent.

During a demonstration, a volunteer was quickly lifted off a table. “It doesn’t feel at all like I’m being lifted by a robot,” she said. “This feels so comfortable and very human.”

Since Japan’s population is rapidly graying, the elderly care industry is starting to boom. According to economists, the care technology market is estimated to be worth over one billion dollars. Hoping to capitalize on this lucrative niche, robotics companies have been rolling out some impressive contraptions.

For instance, consider Secom Co.’s My Spoon feeding robot, which helps elderly or disabled people eat with a spoon- and fork-fitted swiveling arm.

In a demonstration, developer Shigehisa Kobayashi operated the joystick with his chin, yet was able to finely slice a block of tofu and maneuver the piece to his mouth.

“It’s all about empowering people to help themselves,” Kobayashi said. “We want to give the elderly control over their own lives,”

With a price tag of US$3,500, clearly it’s also all about cashing in.

Of course, the incredible innovation doesn’t stop there.

A muscle suit developed by the Tokyo University of Science consists of just rubber and nylon, and can easily be slipped on like a life jacket. However, since its powered by air pressure actuators, the suit allows the user to enhance their strength.

Considering that the elderly lose a great deal of strength in their bodies, an invention such as this would greatly increase a person’s ability to lift objects and subsequently better take care of themselves.

Finally, the convention also saw the release of the intelligent wheelchair, dubbed TAO Aicle by Fujitsu Ltd. and Aisin Seiki Co.

This remarkable device has an onboard Global Positioning System (GPS), which allows the chair to identify its position and navigate between destinations. It can even respond to voice commands, automatically travel to present destinations, stop at traffic lights and maneuver around obstacles.

Amazing. What will they think of next?

For more information on the crazy robots coming to a future near you, check out my prior posting Japanese Robots Will Take Over the World.

** Photos Courtesy of the Associated Press (AP) **