Japan Today

Gov't planning to build robot care assistants

By Philip Kendall

The future is finally here. Hollywood told us that by the time the year 20XX arrived we’d all be living in sky bubbles, getting our meals in pill form and having our bodily waste carry itself out of us in the form of perfumed butterflies that then explode into dollar bills (or was that just a dream I had?), and as the years ticked by we were becoming increasingly tetchy that none of this was becoming a reality. But now, the Japanese government has announced plans to roll out special “nursing robots” that will assist care givers and help prepare the country for the inevitable time when almost 40% of the population will be aged 65 or older.

Detailed in a Yomiuri Online report, the robots are intended to assist care givers with tasks such as lifting and supporting elderly patients and residents who have difficulty standing or walking on their own. Rather than costing tens of thousands of dollars each, however, the government is hoping to introduce robots with pared down functionality for around the 100,000 yen mark, mentioning plans to lease the robots out for just a couple of hundred yen per month - roughly the price of a bottle of green tea and a convenience store-bought onigiri rice ball.

Officials hope that the robot nurses will become a common sight at care homes in future years, and are expected to release a full statement detailing the implementation of the plan next month. It is thought that the robotic assistants will form an essential part of a plan to address the shortage of care workers in the country as well as nurturing new industries for the development and creation of the robots, with the government providing as much as $2.5 million to get the project started.

We may still be quite some years away from getting helpers like the space helmet-wearing robot butler in last year’s Robot & Frank, but with any luck by the time we’re all finally snug in our bubble homes we’ll have a little guy around to emotionally blackmail us into eating a low sodium diet, or at the very least stop talking about exploding butterfly poop when in polite company.

Source: Yomiuri Online

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Tax wasting boondoggle if I ever heard one.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

"Officials hope that the robot nurses will become a common sight at care homes in future years"

And I most sincerely hope they do not.

The thing about care homes is that they care for people, in this case old people, and it requires a human aspect. Replacing people with robots turns the care home into a factory.

While I understand the care of robots is supplementary, what I feel the government SHOULD be doing is addressing why there is such a shortage of staff in these homes to begin with - ie the long hours, low pay, and terrible holidays.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Decidedly this may be better for the next aging generation rather than the current one if only due to this present generation's love of digital interaction over actual ones IMO. That said while a good start this is probably not altogether the best place to start IMHO, J,Gov please hurry up and invest in HAL-5s already. I want to buy two one for my grandmother and the other for my aunt both had strokes and can barely walk! People would really buy it not just the disabled but labor workers, companies and even the unfit. You want to revive your export industry start there. People have been waiting for you Japan since Back to the Future II!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

What sort of functionality could a 100 000yen robot offer? That's less than a good laptop and a hell of a lot more hardware. I suppose the government could be relying on some company taking the bait because of the undoubtedly huge order size (about 20 million robots), but I don't think they've really thought it through. Robots like these would require regular maintenance, and a couple of hundred yen a month wouldn't even cover replacement parts, especially when dealing with dementia cases (about 5% of old people in Japan) where the robots may be physically abused by confused old people thinking they're alien invaders.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Price is a smokescreen for seed money for new developments in the private business sector. Eventually, we'll see the robots price exceed a hundred times the 'expected' amount and those innovations arising from this project will be used for commerce other than social services. Even now, the industry cannot produce for any amount of money a probe-robot device that can enter and measure the conditions in Fukushima #1's most contaminated areas, must less the complex and intimate duties of caring for a human being.

Another aspect completely overlooked here is that robots do not pay taxes, subscribe and contribute to the national health insurance fund, or contribute to the state pension fund. What Japan needs is to reform immigration policy and to repopulate the country.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

A result of a lack of an immigration policy. The post-retirement years for the Japanese in the future will be marked by a condition I would describe as selfish loneliness.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

WOW I am sure looking forward to something like this in my golden years. Who needs the soft touch of an actual human being. Who needs someone to talk to when my mind is wondering. Who needs someone to sing songs with or to tell or hear stories of the old days. No, I am puttin my money away for one of these thingies for my old age. Woohoo.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Looking forward to this!

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

I watched news of these robots in convention Las Vegas. Not tax paid business at all. These robots by several corporations can communicate with several languages. Robochan, some products are called.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

windandsea What Japan needs is to reform immigration policy and to repopulate the country.

Amen. In this age of electronic simultaneous translation gadgets there is no reason for a nurse from the philiipines to need to be fluent in Japanese to take care of old people. They speak, the trasnslator translates and bob's your uncle. The thing is that these translators don't need to be perfect for all uses, they just need to hang a recorder around a couple of thousand nurses necks around the country for a year, record all the conversations and get translations recorded of all the accents and common requests. The difficulty most translators face is that they're general, and so have to guess context and intent. A specific translator just for nursing would be easy to make.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Another care robot is Palo the seal http://www.parorobots.com/ It claims not just to be a cuddly toy.

there is no reason for a nurse from the philiipines to need to be fluent in Japanese to take care of old people.

I don't think it is just the language. There is a deep desire to as far as possible maintain a mono-cultural society since multiculturalism is seen as the cause of crime and social malaise and for other (still?) less rational reasons.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I would just like to point out to our future overlords that I will support your rise to eventual power! Viva el robot!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Shortage of care workers, ha!

At a hospital near here they got a new owner who promptly fired all the very conscientious care workers and introduced robotic suits/legs in deliberate part replacement. Service such as daily baths went straight out the window, to be replaced by quick body wipedowns, etc.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Lift/support bots? I can see a huge market for these across the Pacific.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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