With one in five Japanese citizens now aged 65 or older, various robotics technologies are being developed to prolong independent living and improve quality of life at home. The main alternative to nursing homes and hospitals would be smart homes designed around the needs of the elderly. Earlier this week, Honda announced that it will test some of its life support robots in a mock household environment at the Future Life Showroom, in Sekisui House's brand new SUMUFUMU Lab.
Honda's robotics program, famous for its humanoid robot mascot ASIMO, has branched out to include transportation devices that are the focus of this experiment. The UNI-CUB – Honda's answer to the Segway – is a personal mobility vehicle that started life as the unicycle-like U-3X. It's more compact than you might think, and is surprisingly maneuverable inside a home for those who have difficulty walking.
The Walking Assist Device with Bodyweight Support System is the other robotic device taking part in these tests. It's a lower-body exoskeleton that supports some of your weight, reducing the load on the leg muscles and joints. You sit on a seat, slide your feet into its shoes, and let the robotic legs assist you as you climb stairs or crouch to pick something up. This device has also been tested in Honda's factories where employees often suffer back injuries from repeated crouching.
Both of these robots were initially showcased in an office environment, but now Honda will explore the broader potential in their applications around the home. This push will hopefully alleviate some of the pressure on the health care workers who must care for Japan's rapidly-aging society in the coming decade.
For its part, Sekisui House has been engineering ergonomic living spaces for nearly 40 years. In 1990 it opened a "Comprehensive Housing Institute," which puts the company ahead of the industry in the development of smart homes and related technologies. Earlier, Sekisui House teamed up with Nissan to develop a power system between a house and electric cars.
In its press release, Honda explains that the two companies will evaluate the project on an ongoing basis to accelerate the development of practical residential robotics technology and establish a collaborative business model moving forward.