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Toyota to commercialize robots for physical therapy market in 2015

Chunichi Shimbun

Toyota Motor Corp. plans to launch a line of physical therapy “robots” as early as in 2015 to tap demand expected for machines that can help the elderly get through rehabilitation.

Those who have difficulty walking after suffering a stroke will be able to attach these machines to their legs to help them walk, or stand on a two-wheeled machine to help regain their sense of balance.

The robots are being developed under a joint program with Fujita Health University in Toyoake, Aichi Prefecture. The program has entered its final stage, and hopes are high the products will help the nation deal with its rapidly aging society.

This will be the automaker’s first commercial foray into nursing and health care robotics. Toyota thinks domestic helper robots will be a core business in the 2020s — second only to automobiles — and is starting by targeting the market for rehabilitation services.

The company plans to conduct more clinical trials in hospitals this year and is shooting to boost the number of robots available to 50 from 10.

Next year, Toyota will apply for permission to manufacture and distribute the robots under the Pharmaceutical Affairs Law so they can be rented to hospitals.

Toyota began developing health-sector robots in 2008, drawing on its deep expertise in motor control technology gleaned from years of making automobiles.

The two products they plan to commercialize first are robots that assist with walking and those that help people regain their balance.

The walking-assist robot is attached to the person from the thigh down. When it detects movement, it bends the knee at the optimal angle, and patients can practice walking while looking at a monitor.

It normally takes a stroke patient more than 10 weeks to complete rehabilitation, but Toyota claims that its robots “can reduce the time by half”.

The two-wheeled balance training robot combines a self-balancing technology with video-game screens so the patient can be rehabbed in a simulated game of tennis.

The patient stands on a board attached to the machine, and the robot starts the balance exercise when the patient starts moving left to right to play the game.

Not only does this make rehabilitation enjoyable, but results have shown that patients can start walking properly in just four to six weeks.

“The robots can help reduce the rehabilitation period and I think they can meet further demand,” an employee at Toyota said.

Toyota is also developing nursing robots to assist elderly patients with their daily lives and to reduce various burdens in the nursing care industry.

This section, appearing Saturdays, features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by the Chunichi Shimbun. The original article was published on Dec. 30.