Murata develops next-generation walker using tech from its bicycle-riding robot
Murata Manufacturing, a Japanese electronics company, has developed a walker called KeePace that stays upright on its own. The walker uses the same sensors famously demonstrated by the company's self-balancing robots which ride bicycles and unicycles without falling over.
Co-developed with Yukikazu, which owns roughly half of Japan's domestic walker and electric wheelchair market, the KeePace was first shown at CEATEC 2011 in prototype form. The companies have managed to refine the original prototype's design while improving its support as well as its handling in turns and on slopes. Along with its two primary wheels, this version of the walker has a smaller third wheel which gives added support on an incline and acts like a kickstand when the device is turned off.
Murata's proprietary gyro sensor (which detects changes in angular velocity) and tilt sensor (which measures the angle of inclination) provide the necessary feedback for inverted pendulum control similar to the Segway and other such devices. The sensors have been regularly showcased at events like CEATEC Japan by Murata's mascots since 2005 – Murata Boy is a miniature robot which is able to maintain its balance on a bicycle even during a complete stop, and Murata Girl rides a unicycle with an impressive level of control.
Any safety concerns will most likely be examined at Japan's government-run Robot Safety Center before going on sale. The center is operated in part with Japan's Automobile Research Institute, and uses similar testing methodology to automotive crash tests to identify weaknesses in design. Already a number of robot technologies have been tested there, including Cyberdyne's Hybrid Assistive Limb (HAL) exoskeleton.
The KeePace will come in orange and black models, measuring 85 and 95 cm (33.5 and 37 inches) tall respectively, and weighing 10 kg (22 lbs). There is no word yet on pricing or availability.
Here are a couple of videos showing the KeePace and its prototype from 2011: