One of the stand-outs amongst a stellar field of automated and autonomous ingenuity on show at the IRex robotics expo in Japan this week was the Yurina Care Robot from Japan Logic Machine. Essentially a robotic bed, the 3.5 million Yen (around US$41,000) Yurina reconfigures electronically, on-the-fly, can be controlled by the user or a carer into many different configurations, has four separate sections which can all be angled differently, and can lift and make comfortable, a disabled person of up to 120 kilograms in almost any position. It gets along at 4kmh, can lower you into the bath and get you out again without giving anyone a hernia and comes with a range of optional extras you could only dream about if you are in need of such a device.
The Yurina is one of dozens of elderly care devices currently under development by the Japanese robotics industry.
As we’ve written recently, Japan currently faces a number of significant challenges, and there’s nothing quite like experiencing a problem to focus one’s attention on a solution.
The global automotive society Japan helped build has created the world’s largest traffic jams in its confined spaces. As one of the richest and highest density industrialized countries there are now too many cars for Japan’s roads, and though its high tech traffic management infrastructure has now smoothed out traveling times, it roads are the most congested in the world.
Accordingly, its leading companies such as Toyota, Honda, Yamaha, Nissan et al., are now focusing significant percentages of their R&D budgets on high tech mobility devices which blend with pedestrian traffic and can be carried on public transport – almost all the leading Japanese universities are developing new mobility concepts in this area with assistance and funding from Japanese automotive companies, all of which differ from their western counterparts in that they see themselves as mobility solution companies, not producers of cars.
If there was an aspect of iRex which totally blew me away (there were several, but the one that really impacted me) it was the dedication and ingenuity of the staff and students in the Japanese universities who displayed their work at iRex – Japan need not worry about its future because it’s in excellent hands.
Just the same, the country will encounter monumental challenges prior to the rest of the world meeting them head on.
Its unique society also puts it ahead of the curve with Planet Earth’s aging population. Elderly care is a major issue in most developed countries, but it’s already top-of-mind in Japan, where more than one in five people is older than 65 years and ten percent are older than 75.
Japan is preparing for a dire situation thanks to its long-established low birth rate rapidly aging its society. Thirty years from now, by 2040, one in three people will be older than 65.
In 1990, there were almost six people of working age for each retiree. By 2025, that number will be close to two people of working age for each retiree and you don’t need to be a maths major to predict the strain that will place on the economy.
Not surprisingly, the Japanese Government is encouraging development of solutions for elderly autonomy and care, and a lot of Japan’s world-leading robotics R&D technology is being directed accordingly.
Companion robotics and domestic assistance are part of the plan, but the point where mobility and electronics and robotics all meet is the fertile area upon which Japan appears set to focus its commercial development.
As with the automotive, motorcycle and electronics industries in which it perfected its products in the home market before selling them to the world, Japan is creating machinery that will mobilize its elderly and reduce the burden of care ... and this product has massive global application right now.
Now I had significant problems communicating with the Japan Logic Machine people on the stand at iRex as they were geared for the local market and their English was only slightly better than my pidgeon-Japanese so in the interests of accuracy, I’m reproducing the brochure in the images section and any Japanese –reading-and-writing readers might like to enlighten their fellow readers as to the finer details of the Yurina via the comments section.
I did manage to ascertain several key take-outs from the chat however:
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