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Development of care robots growing in aging Japan

by

Kyodo

A shortage of nursing-care workers in Japan amid a rapidly aging population is accelerating the development and introduction of robots programmed to perform care-giving tasks.

The government is also spurring the trend, calling for the development of robotics-based nursing-care equipment as part of its Japan Revitalization Strategy.

RT. Works Co., an Osaka-based spinoff from Funai Electric Co., has released an autonomous walking-assist electric cart to help elderly people walk outdoors.

Equipped with sensors that recognize how well users are walking, the Robot Assist Walker RT. 1 helps them walk uphill and automatically slows or brakes when they walk downhill.

Using GPS and wireless Internet connectivity, the Robot Assist Walker also allows users’ families to monitor them remotely. If there is an emergency, such as a fall, the robot sends a message to a designated email address.

The robot, priced at around ¥246,000, was released in July and RT Works hopes to sell 20,000 units in the first three years.

In October, NK Works Co., a subsidiary of Noritsu Koki Co., began marketing Neos Care, a robotics-based monitoring system to prevent patients from falling out of bed.

Using an infrared sensor system in a camera installed in the patient’s room, it recognizes when someone is about to fall out of bed and notifies the caregiver via mobile phone.

Nobuo Nakajima, leader of the robot business project at Wakayama-based NK Works, said the product will give caregivers time to communicate more with patients as robots can take over some of their monitoring tasks.

Orix Living Corp., a Tokyo-based operator of aged care homes and joint developer of the monitoring system, has it installed in its 13 facilities, while NK Works is also developing systems designed for use in family homes and medical institutions.

In addition, Orix Living has developed Swing Lift CoCoRo, a lift with an arm capable of making a 360-degree turn, to carry a person from a bed to a bathroom.

Developed jointly with Moritoh Co., a maker of nursing-care equipment in Ichinomiya, Aichi Prefecture, the arm is folded inside a wall when it’s not in use.

Orix Living spokesman Toru Irie said that with 80 percent of care workers suffering from back pain, the user-friendly lift is designed to lessen the physical strain on them.

In the company’s survey of some 1,200 men and women aged 40 and older, about 80 percent of respondents welcomed the prospect of robots looking after them when they need care, saying they would feel more at ease than if human caregivers were present.