OSAKA – Manufacturers are stepping up the development of health care rehabilitation robots because the global market for such equipment is expected to grow rapidly.
Companies of all kinds are trying to tap into a medical robot market that is forecast to grow 24.51 percent through 2020, according to market researcher Infiniti Research.
Demand for rehabilitation robots could be particularly strong in Japan, given the rapidly graying and shrinking population.
The robots are expected to help elderly people regain the use of limbs and avoid becoming bedridden. They also allow patients to train without assistance, a major attraction in a nation with a dwindling working-age population and a mushrooming number of retirees.
In September, Toyota Motor Corp. plans to start leasing a robot designed to aid the rehabilitation of people with lower limb paralysis. The auto giant will lease the wearable robotic leg brace, jointly developed with Fujita Health University, to medical institutions at an initial cost of ¥1.08 million and a monthly fee of ¥378,000 per unit.
Panasonic Corp. and Keio University have been conducting clinical trials of a robot designed to revive the use of paralyzed fingers. The robot recognizes the patient’s finger intentions from brain waves monitored by sensors.
The electronics giant, based in Osaka, aims to have the robot in practical use within three years.
Teijin Pharma, the health care business unit of synthetic-fibers maker Teijin Ltd., last fall launched a robotic arm to help people with upper limb paralysis rehabilitate. The ReoGo-J device is already being used at such facilities as Kansai Rehabilitation Hospital, which is known for its advanced treatments.
A man in his 30s, paralyzed on the right side of his body, has been exercising with the robot for 20 to 30 minutes every day since last fall.
“I finally became able to move my arm a little bit,” he said.
“Technological innovation will change the way therapists work,” Tomosaburo Sakamoto, the director of Kansai Rehabilitation Hospital, said.
Use of such robots is expected to spread if treatments involving them get covered by the national health insurance system.
“The market has not been established yet,” said Teijin Pharma President Akihisa Nabeshima, adding that he hopes robot treatment will be covered by the insurance system in a few years.
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