Robots Help Elderly When Humans Cannot

Robots Help Elderly When Humans Cannot

If you grow old in Japan, expect to be served food by a robot, ride a voice-recognition wheelchair or even possibly hire a nurse in a robotic suit – all examples of cutting-edge technology to care for the country’s graying population.

With nearly 22 percent of Japan’s people aged 65 or older, businesses have been rolling out everything from easy-entry cars to remote-controlled beds, fueling a care-technology market worth $1.08 billion in 2006, according to industry figures.

At a home care and rehabilitation convention in Tokyo, buyers crowded around a demonstration of Secom’s feeding robot, which helps elderly or disabled people eat with a spoon- and fork-fitted swiveling arm.

Operating a joystick with his chin, developer Shigehisa Kobayashi maneuvered the arm toward a block of tofu, deftly getting the fork to break off a piece. The arm then returned to a preprogrammed position in front of the mouth, allowing Kobayashi to bite.

“It’s all about empowering people to help themselves,” Kobayashi said. The company has already sold 300 robots, which are $3,500.

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