Big in Japan: Robots Give the Best Facials

Let’s be real for a second – with 100 hour-plus work weeks, crowded city streets, cramped apartments and a frightening absence of vacation days, sometimes it can be really tough to be Japanese.

Sushi, green tea, sake and cherry blossoms aside, modern Japan can be an extremely lonely and isolating place.

Fortunately, the Japanese have their own series of stress relieving rituals to take the edge off. From bathing in hot springs and walking in the park to drinking a hot carafe of sake or dining with friends, the Japanese are masters at finding their own personal slice of zen.

Of course, nothing soothes the mind and relieves your tension like a good facial, which is why the Japanese love to head to the spa after work. Since a good masseuse can be hard to find, the Japanese think nothing of spending their hard-earned yen on a quality facial.

With that said, it may be only a matter of time before tipping your masseuse isn’t necessary, especially since the new Waseda Asahi Oral Rehabilitation Robot 1 or WAO-1 robot probably gives the best facials you’ve ever had.

Early this week, researchers at Tokyo’s Waseda University unveiled their rather frightening looking robot to the general public. With two steel arms connected by a spidery web of cables and wires, WAO-1 will soon be deployed to hospitals and spas across the country.

Although Japan already has some incredibly advanced massage chairs, the facial bone structure is much more fragile than the back and spine. As a result, engineers needed to start afresh and create a new type of technology.

According to project leader Atsuo Takanishi, “The robot’s arms are fitted with ceramic spheres the size of golf balls, and the spheres roll over the skin. The arms’ movements are controlled by a complex set of algorithms designed to emulate massages, while six sensors at the base of the arms measure and adjust the pressure applied by the spheres.”

Originally designed to give deep tissue therapeutic facial massages, WAO-1 was intended to help patients with jaw-related medical problems. However, after another research team member, Ken Nishimura, said the robot could be adjusted to give beauty and relaxation massages, everything changed.

“This technology can be applied very widely,” Nishimura said. “I’m looking forward to a time when this robot will give beauty facials at spas.”

Currently, robots are not uncommon in high-class spas in Tokyo. At present, there are already robots that shampoo and rinse your hair, though it’s probably going to be some time before you can count on a robot to give you a good hair cut or a close shave!

For more information on the future of elder care, check out my prior posting on how Japanese Robots Will Care of Us When We’re Old.

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

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

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) **

Big in Japan: Japanese Robots Will Take Over the World

The following post was inspired by an article that appeared recently in Wired magazine entitled the Future of Humanoid Robots, From Frubber ‘Skin’ to DJ Juke Bots.

Like the majority of other self-respecting Japanophiles the world over, I love robots. I mean, every time I turn on the news and see some crazy story about some new Japanese robot, I get giddy all over. With that said, you can imagine how excited I was when I found this recent article in Wired magazine on the future of Japanese robots.

Here is a rundown of some of the crazy robots you can expect to see in a future near you:

Kiyomori Samurai Robot

According to Wired magazine, “Tmsuk’s flagship robot has a humanlike stride with stretchy knees, 39 joints and a very flexible pelvic region that provides a smooth, more natural gait.”

I want to call particular attention to the ‘flexible pevlic region’ – I can only imagine just exactly where the engineers will go with that one. I know robots are designed to make our lives better and easier, but I know there are a lot of people out there who could use some help in certain, er, departments.


Wired writes that “this life-size humanoid robot can recognize casual questions and commands, hold simple objects and stop for obstacles in its path during a leisurely stroll.”

The craziest part however is that it is programmed to kick your butt in a variety of games including chess and checkers. It’s fine and dandy that robots are getting smarter than us, but then again, who plays chess and checkers any more. I guess the real question here is whether or not can it play Nintendo Wii?

Juke Bots

According to Wired Magazine, ‘Juke Bots are two giant mechanical arms that select and spin vinyl records. They’re programmed to perform compositions with robotic precision and can go head to head with the best warm-blooded mixmasters around.’

Sure. But can it get me passes to jump the line? Afterall, isn’t that the best part of knowing a real life human DJ? And what about its musical tastes? I mean, is this going to spin repetitive house music all night, or can I expect it to play my favourite hip-hop records and bust out some serioues scratching.

Human-Carrying Biped Walking Robot

Wired magazine writes, “Researchers at Japan’s Waseda University have developed a pair of 4-foot-tall robotic legs that can move efficiently across uneven terrain. The Biped Walking Robot uses footlike sensors to measure the forces between its base and the floor, maintaining on-the-fly balance based on the weight of its load.”

Amazing. I mean, all of the hipsters I know love rocking out their Segways, but how cool would you look coming down the street riding one of these things? All you need to do is add some loader arms and you could throw an alien out the hangar door a la Sigorney Weaver in Aliens.

Call me crazy, but am I the only one that thinks that Japanese robots will take over the world? Maybe not in my lifetime, but the seeds of resistance are definitely being planted.

(On a serious note however, the field of robotics is rapidly moving from the realm of science fiction into reality, and I can’t stress enough how much all of our lives will improve if this current pace of innovation continues).

Solar-Powered, Robotic Snow Surfing

If you think engineers are funny, then you’re going to love the trip report posted by Dartmouth’s Thayer School of Engineering. While testing their scalable, solar-powered autonomous science platforms for the Antarctic (hereforthwith referred to as SSPASPFTA), the team inadvertently invented a new sport — solar-powered, robotic snow-surfing:

One morning, while taking walking behind the robot and dragging a sled of equipment for quantitatively measuring the strength and cohesion of the snow underfoot, we realized what fools we were to man-haul the equipment ourselves. And, for that matter, how silly even to walk. So, we hooked the sled to the robot and went for a ride. The robot, it turns out, can haul its own weight (nearly 200 lbs.) on a sled and hardly notice it.

What fools, indeed. Though no one will be calling this sport extreme — the SSPASPFTA only travels at the pace of a walking person — it is somewhat novel. Plus, it gives engineers the chance to be outside, read, AND engage in some “man-hauling” all at once. Next stop: Vail.