New robot promises brighter future for Japan's elderly


A new robot using high-precision tactile sensors and flexible motor control technology has taken Japan one step closer to its goal of providing high-quality care for its growing elderly population. Developed by researchers at RIKEN and Tokai Rubber Industries (TRI), the new robot can lift a patient up to 80 kgs in weight off floor-level bedding and into a wheelchair, freeing care facility personnel of one of their most difficult and energy-consuming tasks.

With an elderly population in need of nursing care projected to reach a staggering 5.69 million by 2015, Japan faces an urgent need for new approaches to assist care-giving personnel. One of the most strenuous tasks for such personnel, carried out an average of 40 times every day, is that of lifting a patient from a futon at floor level into a wheelchair. Robots are well-suited to this task, yet none have yet been deployed in care-giving facilities.

In 2009, the RIKEN-TRI Collaboration Center for Human-Interactive Robot Research (RTC), a joint project established in 2007 and located at the Nagoya Science Park in central Japan, unveiled a robot called RIBA (Robot for Interactive Body Assistance) designed to assist in this task. The first robot capable of lifting a patient from a bed to a wheelchair and back, RIBA charted a new course in the development of care-giving robots, yet functional limitations prevented its direct commercialization.

RTC's new robot, named RIBA-II, overcomes these limitations with added power and functionality. New joints in the robot's base and lower back enable RIBA-II to crouch down and lift a patient off a futon at floor level, the most physically strenuous task for care-givers and one that RIBA was not able to do. RIBA-II accomplishes this task using newly-developed Smart Rubber sensors, the first capacitance-type tactile sensors made entirely of rubber. Printed in sheets and fitted onto the robot's arms and chest, the sensors enable high-precision tactile guidance and allow RIBA-II to quickly detect a person's weight from touch alone, guaranteeing patient safety.

In the future, RTC researchers will work together with partner nursing care facilities to test RIBA-II and further tailor it to the needs of care-givers and their patients, while also developing new applications in areas such as rehabilitation. TRI aims to bring care-giving robots like RIBA-II to the market in the near future, promising support for aging populations in countries around the world.

© JCN Newswire

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Solving both shortage of nurses and cost-based goals

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

beware it's just a T-100 in disguise ..the robot overloads are coming !!!

1 ( +1 / -0 )

i would much rather a human being no matter where they came from. humans have hearts.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

i would much rather a human being no matter where they came from. humans have hearts

sillygirl -- you beat me to it. Wonder if the elderly would rather have a Filipina or Inonesian care giver, who may not read/write great Japanese, but has a warm smile and tender touch, or this robot? Seems like Japan just wants to use technology to overcome a xenophobic immigration policy. But if that is what this society values, then that is their choice.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

It is a truly sad reflection of Japanese society when machines are being developed such as this one.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

I would prefer a robot to a Filipina... Sorry.

It is sad godan, but also it is inevitable. I work in this industry, and the salary for people who work in the Fukushikai industry is absolutely horrendous. So small ... :( If Japan started boosting salaries for workers, more people would want to do it, regardless of where they are from.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Well I'd like to think the idea is to use the robot to assist human personnel and save them from the literally back breaking manual task of lifting people up and down, as shown by the video.

And for once, a robot that seems to be actually useful and usable. Could see this caching on. And who knows, it might even become a valuable export product in some years!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Bonding with a Tin/plastic can, no interpersonal skills required, just a gut wrenching feeling of loneliness and a wish to die. Sounds Great!

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Dear Elders: Don't plan on ever using something like this robot. It took ELECTRICITY to make and it uses electricity.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

This one of those things that on the surface, looks like a great idea. They can take care of old people without having to import those nasty foreigners. But when you look at some of the repercussions of such a plan, it will have some terrible secondary consequences.

These robots ain't cheap. Somebody is going to have to pay for them. And granny doesn't have much other than her meager pension. That only means higher taxes. Raising taxes on a shrinking work force will destroy the economy.

But wait, you say, granny has tons of money saved up, so she can pay for half of the robot! Sure, she may have tons of cash saved up, but they are in the form of Japanese Bonds. (whether granny knows it or not). So when she cashes out her savings account to buy a robot, she will in effect be asking for her money back from the government.

If plenty of grannies do this at once, Japan's debt problem will explode.

Anyway you slice it, these cute robots which make Japan look like a leading technological country are economically disastrous, no matter how you look at it.

There's a reason most first world countries import some of their health care workers from lesser developed countries. It makes much more economic sense for everybody involved. The workers themselves get better jobs than they would in their home country, and the country gets cheaper labor than they would otherwise.

The only reason this isn't looked at seriously in Japan is that Japan has some serious collective issues when it comes to bringing in foreigners to do work. So serious that it blinds them from harsh economic reality.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

I was very skeptical about "robot care" for patients until I realized that its purpose is to LIFT. I think this is a great idea -- protecting the human caregivers from back injuries, which once they happen, can be lifelong problems.

We are not talking about personal interaction here, just lifting ability.

Robots that talk and move to comfort the elderly are a sort of creepy idea. It seems to me that article was up just a few days ago, and maybe some people are confusing the two?

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Headline "...brighter future for Japan's elderly..."

TRI aims to bring care-giving robots like RIBA-II to the market in the near future, promising support for aging populations in countries around the world.

Export oriented venture? i don't see brighter future for the maker.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Did anyone investigate whether it would be easier to just stop using futons on the floor and put patients in hospital beds? It seems to me that it would be much easier to transfer a patient into a wheelchair if they were starting off in a higher position. Of course, many of the older patients are probably used to and prefer futons, so that might not be an option.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

I would prefer a robot to a Filipina... Sorry.

Not a people person, himehentai?

I reckon these lazy robots should be sent into the reactors at Dai-ichi - put them to real work!

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Love these robots. Sure they will be very useful. No one should strain their backs. But at the same time, someone teach the people to love their own families, friends and others so that you have the real human touch, feeling etc, Nothing can replace that. If the elderly value their material things, money etc then please go ahead. You are losing something important in your lives. I have J friends who are not very young. I socialize with them and spend a fraction of my spare time, cooking for them, going out with them. Their children do not do what I do for them. I have a great time. It can be tiring but it is mutually beneficial.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Did anyone investigate whether it would be easier to just stop using futons on the floor and put patients in hospital beds?

This is another of those 'only in Japan' issues. When it is glaringly obvious that a particular custom is counterproductive, it's time for it to go. Great, if you can get up under your own steam, sleep on a futon. I can understand why you might want to continue to do that if you've done so for the past 70 or 80 years. But once you need lifting into a wheelchair, sorry, but it's time to use a bed, for the health and safety of the caregivers and care assistants who are looking after you. A quick look at healthcare staff in a hospital will show you why hospital beds are the height they are. How much more is this a no-brainer in a situation where everyone in a care home needs this doing dozens of times a day. But why they need a robot, rather than a mechanical lifting machine is beyond me. anyway, they'll spend millions developing a robot with a stupid expression, but a bed is too much of a technological development over the futon, apparently. Madness! It's like the way they get kids to polish floors in schools sometimes, instead of using an electrical polisher.

And I agree with other posters, it's just an attempt to sidestep the issue of decent working conditions for healthcare staff, and recruiting more foreign labour to do the job. Of course lifting equipment can be an important part of any care home, allowing the staff to do their job without an unecessary risk of permanent injury every day.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

i would much rather a human being no matter where they came from. humans have hearts.

I am not so sure about it, especially reading about a lots of bullies and abuses that occur in nursing homes.

Taking care of elderly people needs tremendous energy, patience, psychological preparedness and eventually can bring down even a professional nurse or the family if it is goes on too long.

I think these robots are design to do the physical side of the hard work and not the psychological and emotional. They need somebody to do it, Japanese are getting old no one cares and foreigners are not very keen on learning Japanese to be accepted for wiping their a..s especially not for that low salary.

Robots are good solution, I think. They can take the hard job and the Japanese can do the rest for themselves.

BTW. I don't understand why a specific robot, designed to perform specific task have to have a human shape.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

There are millions unemployed , instead of investing money in these robots that cost a fortune, train up humans. Of course not everyone could do the job but many can. Also offer a living wage. The care of fellow humans is our duty as a civilised society. If dignity and high level care costs me more in taxes i am all in favour of it.

2 ( +4 / -2 )


You hit the nail on the head. Would be just great.

But when it comes to the issue of training and wage, they have more money to invest into the robotic business for elderly care, a predecessor and test for developing sophisticated heavy robotic technology, than to keep humans living. They can always sell the robots, but not the human slaves. (nurses.)

As of taxes, don't worry the government will surely create a "robotic category" tax , they are extremely resourceful when it comes to money, and will request the operator of the robots to pay big tax. And they will be happy to pay as robots at least don't need to be fed and don't talk back.

We are supposed to be a civilized society, but as it seems to me we can only talk about technical civilization and nothing more. The moral, ethical and human civilization is just a dream.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

I agree with munyatimes. having some nurse irritated to lift you up wouldn't be good. Not sure how nursing homes are in JP but in the US we would need these Robots. Not every has a "tender touch/gental Heart" I would rather have any Foreigner Nurse with a kind smile than a Robot. But it would save on difficult work for nurses. JP idiom - icchou ittan - 1 long 1 short - to have merits & demerits.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Of course this robot was made as a bulwark against foreign caregivers. Again I'll say it, it's xenophobia driving the technology. If Japan were indeed the leader in robotics, why did they have to borrow American robots to help in Fukushima.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

I can just imagine going to hostess bar after a hard day in the office, and instead of a nice foreign caregiver working her second job, I find a robot!

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Having volunteered at a centre with disabled people, I can easily see the benefit of having a "lifting robot"

First, getting a bed instead of using futons will make the task easier, but it doesn't eliminate lifting altogether. Transferring patients from their bed to a chair is still physically difficult even with all the techniques you have at your disposable especially if the patient is unable to help. I had to transfer this one quadriplegic from his wheelchair to another wheelchair using a "lifting machine" and it certainly wasn't easy. With some patients who had limited use of their legs, transferring them wasn't difficult but I can easily imagine the physical drain on both you and the patients if you had to do around all day long. By the way, from the many comments I read, it seems that many of the people are under the impression that these robots are designed to replace workers, but it appears that they will be used as a tool, not a replacement.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

jonobugs; maybe not thsi robot whcih is really just a lifting machine.But the policy here is to have robots replace human carers due to lack of carers. They are already makings some that interact with humans.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Perhaps in the far future it may be possible to 'replace' human workers with robots given that the technology is good enough, but in the "here and now" I can only imagine that these robots are just tools for the human staff, making their jobs a whole lot less physically demanding.

I think that most people would MUCH rather have a human to interact with and care for them, but I really don't think that this is what the article is about. It's about having a new piece of equipment which can take care of those tasks which are just too demanding for a lot of people.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Robots replacing worker in the "far future"?? How about yesterday. There are millions of industrial robots that have replace humans since the last century. Japan seems to have a fascination for the inanimate... look at the sex doll industry.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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