Japan’s population is quickly aging–by 2015, the country will have 5.69 million people in need of nursing care. There are only so many times that a person can lift patients from a futon to a wheelchair. Currently, caretakers working in nursing facilities perform this act an average of 40 times a day. And so in true Japanese style, a group of researchers have manufactured a robot to help out.
The RIBA II (Robot for Interactive Body Assistance) is the second iteration of RIBA, a bot developed by the RIKEN research institute that can lift patients out of their wheelchairs, onto a bed, and back again. Unlike the original robot, RIBA II has joints in its base and lower back that allow it to crouch and scoop up a patient lying on a floor-level Japanese futon (this is a common sleeping style in the country). Check out a video of RIBA in action here.
Lest you be concerned that RIBA may crush one of its charges, the latest version of the bot features rubber tactile sensors that can sense a person’s weight purely from touch. Still, we imagine the day will come when RIBA breaks down while cradling a patient–without a real, live caregiver in site.
RIBA isn’t the first elder-care robot to come out of Japan. In the past few years, we’ve seen a Hybrid Assisted Limb that can boost the wearer’s strength by a factor of 10, a robotic bed that turns into a wheelchair on command, and a seal-like robot that is supposed to be a pet replacement for elderly people who can no longer care for real animals. In the U.S., the PR2 bot is being primed to help the elderly perform daily tasks.
Such advanced technology doesn’t come cheap. When it goes on sale in 2015, RIBA II will cost approximately $78,000.