Japanese scientists have developed a robot that looks like a huge, happy teddy bear and is designed to lift hospital patients in and out of their wheelchairs and beds.
Named RIBA – short for Robot for Interactive Body Assistance – the android was developed by the government-run Riken research institute and could be deployed in hospitals and retirement homes within three years.
‘We have developed RIBA because we want to help caregivers when they are required to transfer patients between hospital beds and wheelchairs,” said Dr. Toshiharu Mukai, who heads the research team.
Development took two years and the robot is able to lift a weight of 61 kg on its foam padded arms. Covered in a soft skin designed to protect patients, the robot is also able to recognise faces and voices, as well as responding to up to 30 spoken commands.
The battery-powered robot can operate for up to an hour on a single charge and is more agile and stronger than its predecessor, the Ri-man.
Japan faces a twin crisis of the world’s most rapidly ageing population, which is increasing the pressure on the health system, as well as a declining birth rate, meaning that fewer workers.
Anticipating a shortfall in staff within the next two decades, many Japanese firms are carrying out research on electronic employees – which have the added bonus of not requiring a wage and being available 24 hours a day.
Dr. Mukai said RIBA will be undergoing rigorous testing in hospitals over the next three years and could be available commercially in 2012.