Toyota Motor Corp. has brought healthcare to high tech, and the result is a new line of assistive robots designed to help people with physical disabilities. The auto giant recently announced plans to offer the Toyota Partner Robot series, a line of health-aid robots designed to lift and carry patients and help injured or paralyzed persons walk.
One of the robotic devices is the Independent Walk Assist, a mechanical exoskeleton for a person’s legs. The device enables a person with paralysis or other ailment to walk by utilizing computer sensors. The robots are expected to be available for purchase by 2013.
“[Toyota] endeavors to provide the freedom of mobility to all people, and understands from its tie-ups with the Toyota Memorial Hospital and other medical facilities that there is a strong need for robots in the field of nursing and healthcare,” the company said. “We aim to support independent living for people incapacitated through sickness or injury, while also assisting in their return to health and reducing the physical burden on caregivers.”
Researchers at the University of California developed a robotic exoskeleton similar to the Walk Assist, which enabled a student with paralysis to walk across the stage like his classmates and receive his diploma in the spring of 2010. In 2000, after receiving backing from the US military, university researchers designed wearable robots to assist soldiers in carrying heavy loads. Toyota plans to make its version–called the Independent Walk Assist–available to Japanese paralysis patients by 2013.
The Independent Walk Assist is only one of several health-aid robots that Toyota recently revealed. Another model is the Patient Transfer Assist, a machine designed for use by patients and caregivers. The machine uses weight-bearing arms, a mobile platform, and robotic controls to move and carry patients.
“Each robot incorporates the latest in advanced technologies developed by [Toyota], including high-speed, high-precision motor control technology, highly stable walking-control technology advanced through development of two-legged robots, and sensor technology that detects the user’s posture as well as their grasping and holding strength,” Toyota reported.
According to MIT economists who recently spoke at a robotic symposium in Massachusetts, computers and robots will increasingly become more commonplace in the workplace in the years to come. Robots may even replace human workers in positions such such as call-center and clerical jobs. As a result, the economy will change and workers will have to be retrained.
The use of robotic exoskeletons has been extensively researched during the last decade. Two years ago, Japan-based Cyberdyne, Inc. designed a robotic exoskeleton named Robot Suit HAL. The device is worn like a suit and helps persons who suffered a stroke or debilitating accident regain their mobility.
Kudos to Toyota for considering assistive technology and accessibility in the design and implementation of new products for all people to use, regardless of ability.