How Robots Are Changing the Way We Age

201353The Fiscal Times(電子版)

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Japan has been leading the way in this field. For fiscal year 2013, the Japanese government provided $24.6 million to companies focusing on robotics for elder care, according to Hiro Murata, CEO for the Center for Studies on Aging Societies and a professor at Tohoku University in Sendai, Japan. Emerging technologies focus on all sorts of elder care, from assistance with manual labor to tasks that improve cognitive abilities and maneuvering with limited mobility.


Japan has tested a variety of robotic technologies, including PARO, a seal robot that responds to an owner’s touch and provides engaging companionship. Developed at MIT’s Artificial Intelligence Lab, PARO was commercialized in Japan in 2005 followed by the U.S. in 2009. Early studies show that it benefits some Alzheimer’s patients, easing depression and reducing agitation. It retails for $6,000 or can be leased for $200 a month. To date, over 2,000 have been sold in Japan, with only 100 sold in the U.S.


Honda is continuing to refine a robot it developed in 2006, ASIMO, a four-foot-three robot that can help around the house or assist someone confined to a bed or wheelchair. Another Japanese product is the hybrid assistive limb, an exoskeleton suit offered by Cyberdyne, which helps those who have been paralyzed or recovering from a stroke. The robotic suit has electrodes that attach to the skin and detect nerve activation coming from the brain to the muscle. A device controls a set of motors at the joints so that the suit’s arm, attached to the limbs, moves in tandem to the command given to the limbs.


Majd Alwan, executive director of the LeadingAge Center for Aging Services Technologies, says Japanese robotics technology gets more attention from private industry than in the U.S. because the Japanese are more accepting culturally of robotic technologies in general while U.S. consumers still prefer human interaction.