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Robot Caregivers

Help for Those on the Front Line of Nursing Care


RIBA the caregiving robot. (C)RIKEN-TRI Collaboration Center for Human-Interactive Robot Research

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A wide variety of robots are under development in Japan, and caregiving robots are among those attracting particular attention. Given the aging of the population, public and private institutions are working to develop robots that can assist with nursing care. In recent months robots have been unveiled that are designed to help elderly and disabled people get in and out of bed and to assist with their transportation.

Lift-and-Carry RobotIn August 2009 RIKEN, an independent administrative institution engaged in scientific research, and Tokai Rubber Industries debuted RIBA (Robot for Interactive Body Assistance), a nursing assistant robot that can lift and carry a person. Standing 140 centimeters tall and weighing 180 kilograms, RIBA has an endearing bear-like face. Its outstanding feature is the strength of its two long arms, which are capable of lifting an adult.


RIBA lifts a person. (C)RIKEN-TRI Collaboration Center for Human-Interactive Robot Research

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RIKEN unveiled a lift-and-carry robot called RI-MAN (Robot Interacting with Human) in March 2006, but it could lift no more than 18.5 kg. RIBA, with an improved arm drive mechanism and stronger materials than its predecessor, can lift people weighing up to 61 kg. To accommodate two different types of movement - bending and twisting - twin motors are used to drive RIBA's arms. Both motors can be used together when the motion involves only bending or twisting, enabling a major increase in load capacity.

RIBA can lift a person from bed to wheelchair and vice versa with the aid of a human caregiver. Tactile sensors allow caregivers to control RIBA by touch, such as turning it around by putting a hand on its arm or changing the elbow angle by pushing the arm. This makes manipulation much easier than a remote control system. RIKEN and Tokai Rubber Industries plan to conduct demonstration tests at care facilities and commercialize the robot within the next few years.



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Easy-Ride WheelchairThe Veda International Robot R&D Center, an incorporated association run mainly by Japanese robotics researchers, unveiled RODEM in August 2009. RODEM ("Robot de Enjoy Mobility") is a single-seat, two-wheel-drive, four-wheel "universal vehicle" resembling the front half of a scooter. It is powered by a lead acid battery and weighs 100 kg.

Most significantly, it is designed to be mounted in a forward motion. When moving from a bed or toilet seat to a conventional wheelchair, users need to turn themselves around so that their back faces the wheelchair before they sit down. No turning is involved with RODEM, however, as it is straddled from behind. Another problem with wheelchairs is that sitting in them for long stretches can cause pain in the back, where much of the upper body weight is concentrated. But as users lean slightly forward on RODEM, the weight is more evenly distributed on the chest, knees, and lower back.

RODEM is useful not only for people with disabilities; the vehicle can also present able-bodied people with a convenient means of transportation. The Veda Center hopes to put it on the market in several years with roughly the price tag of an electric wheelchair. (February 2010)

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