Japan’s population has been edging towards a higher proportion of elderly people. It creates a shortage of caregivers for the elderly. This problem had driven the country into exploring the Robotics industry in search of a solution to help compensate.
Whether it is Japan, the US or other developing nations with aging populations, robots are expected to play a role in elderly care and helping us age in place. They could incorporate the features of current medical alert systems, and help to lift up the fallen senior even before human first responders arrive. The capabilities of this robotic bear certainly shed light on what could be available to the mass market in another 7 to 10 years.
A new robotic teddy bear has been developed by Dr. Toshiharu Mukai, leader of the Robot Sensor Systems Research Team. He had previously started the project at RIKEN-SRK Collaboration Center for Human-Interactive Robot Research in Nagoya but is now at Meijo University since March 2015.
The scientist hopes that this project will solve their country’s shortage of caregivers for the elderly. The research institute had introduced ROBEAR, the third generation of the robot bears. The first two, being Riken’s Robot for Interactive Body Assistance or RIBA (2009) and RIBA-II (2011) respectively, weighs around 507 lbs, making the latest ROBEAR distinctively lighter at just 308 lbs.
Being more lightweight than its predecessors, ROBEAR avoids falling over despite intense tasks. This is made possible by using its retractable legs that also extends when necessary. The said legs allow the robot to navigate through narrow spaces like doorways.
ROBEAR includes a few features that makes it as gentle as a real human caregiver. For its joints to have quick and precise movements, low gear ratio actuator units were installed. This allows backdrivability, a feedback mechanism that helps allow softer movements. It includes tactile sensors entirely made of rubber, which ensures that the robots perform their tasks without endangering the patients.
Scientists believe that developing ROBEAR will boost the research on care-giving robots as they needed a new approach to the said industry.
The robotic teddy bear is programmed to provide assistance to patients trying to rise from a chair. They can also lift up immobilized patients and transfer them from a bed into a wheelchair. These tasks are tiring for the care-giving personnel as they do this for about 40 times per day and it usually gives them a considerable amount of lower back pain.
Once the Robotic Teddy Bear is released and deployed to care-giving facilities, it’ll be relieving the burden from the caregivers. Although a human caregiver is still needed to guide ROBEAR, it will still be a big help in improving the elderly people’s lives. Dr. Mukai hopes to provide capable and practical care-giving robots who are both powerful and gentle for the aging population of Japan.
Meanwhile, other developments in robots that can help seniors age in place are proceeding in other countries besides Japan. Check out this medical alert robot video to catch another glimpse into the future of robotics and elderly care.
Toy manufacturer Hasbro introduced their companion cat robot in 2015. This is as a way for seniors to enjoy the fun of having a pet experience at home, even if they are no longer able to take care of live animals.