Japan to Fund Low-Cost Nursing Home Robots

TOKYO — Robots may soon be assisting in basic care needs for the elderly. The Japanese government is funding companies that can develop low-cost nursing home robots in response to the increase in the country’s population of elderly people, according to The Japanese Daily Press.

The Japanese government wants to support the development of four kinds of robots that can achieve very specific nursing care tasks that include:

• A motorized robot suit that can help lift or move non-ambulant elderly people so that caretakers no longer need to exert as much physical strength.

• An ambulatory robot that can offer enough support for the elderly to walk by themselves, even on inclined services.

• A self-cleaning robotic toilet that makes it easier for the elderly to use the bathroom.

• A monitoring robot that can track dementia patients who often wander off on their own and get lost.

In this fiscal year, the Japanese government will offer subsidies of 50 to 60 percent in research and development costs to companies that will create these types of robots. Similar prototypes that can lift and hold patients have been made, but they cost about 20 million yen ($205,000). The Japanese government hopes that the new robots will cost about 100,000 yen ($1,022) so that they can be mass-produced. The market for such products is valued at about 400 billion yen ($4.09 billion) by 2035, according to the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry.

Not only will the new prototypes assist the elderly, but they will also support the shortage of nursing care workers. According to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, Japan fell short of at least 700,0000 from the target number of nursing care workers in 2010 and the ministry believes that the country will need 4 million workers in 2025.

In the U.S., the use of robots in medical facilities is also making way. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the first medical robot to be deployed in the nation’s hospitals in January. While it does not assist patients with specific care needs per say, the RP-VITA robot allows bed-ridden patients to speak with a doctor at a remote location throughout the country or world.

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