The Japanese government is extending financial assistance to companies who can develop low-cost nursing home robots, this as a part of Japan’s push to deal with the issues of having a large population of elderly people and also to help spur economic growth. The government is looking to support the development of robots with limited functions for very specific nursing care tasks, designed to assist elderly people in daily activities, thereby reducing the burden on nursing home workers.
The government has outlined the tasks that need robotic assistance, and there are four major kinds of robots that are included in the development plan – first is a motorized robot suit that can assist in lifting or moving non-ambulant elderly people so that caretakers do not need to exert as much physical strength. Also included in the plan is the development of an ambulatory robot that can assist the elderly to walk by themselves, even on inclined surfaces. Another logical part of the plan is to develop a portable, self-cleaning robotic toilet that can be placed strategically to make using the toilet easier for the elderly. Lastly, the government is pushing for a monitoring robot that can track the whereabouts of dementia patients who usually wander about and get lost. Starting this fiscal year, the Japanese government will provide subsidies covering 50 to 60 percent of research and development costs to firms who would develop these nursing care robots.
There are already some prototypes and companies who have developed humanoid nursing care robots that can lift and hold patients, but they however remain extremely expensive, costing as much as 20 million yen (approx. 205,000 dollars) each, hence they are not widely used. The Japanese government is shooting for low-cost nursing care robots around the 100,000 yen (1,022 dollars) price range, so that it would be easy to commercialize them via mass production. The Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry is expecting the market for such products to boom, valued at upwards of 400 billion yen (4.09 billion dollars) by 2035. And also according to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, Japan has a chronic shortage of nursing care workers, falling short by at least 700,000 of the target number of workers in 2010. The ministry predicts a need for 4 million such workers in 2025. With such low-cost nursing home robotic implements in place, the government is hoping to at least help out the nursing care workers who are in place to do their jobs easier and more efficiently.
[via Bangor Daily News]