Japan’s workarounds for adult care shortage: robots, exoskeletons, sensors

[grow_thumb image=”http://telecareaware.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/robear.jpg” thumb_width=”150″ /]The problem of Japan’s aging population–the oldest worldwide with 32 percent aged 60+ (2013, RFE)–and shortage of care workers has led to a variety of ‘digital health solutions’ in the past few years, some of them smart, many of them gimmicky, expensive, or non-translatable to other cultures. There have been the comfort robot semi-toys (the PARO seal, the Chapit mouse), the humanoid exercise-leading robots (Palro), and IoT gizmos. Smarter are the functional robots which can transfer a patient to/from bed and wheelchair disguised as cuddly bears (Robear, developed by Riken and Sumitomo Riko) and Panasonic’s exoskeletons for lifting assistance.

Japan’s problem: how to support more older adults in homes with increasingly less care staff, and how to pay for it. The Financial Times quotes Japan government statistics that by 2025 there will be 2.5m skilled care workers but 380,000 more are needed. The working age population is shrinking by 1 percent per year and immigration to Japan is near-nonexistent. Japan is looking to technology to do more with fewer people, for instance transferring social contact or hard, dirty work to robots. The very real challenge is to produce and support the devices at a reasonable price for both domestic use and–where the real money is–export. 

The Abe government in 2012 budgeted ¥2.39bn ($21m) for development of nursing care robots, with the Ministry for Economy, Trade and Industry tasked to find and subsidize 24 companies–not a lot of money and parceled out thinly. Five years later, the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare determined that “deeper work is needed on machinery and software that can either replace human care workers or increase staff efficiency.” Even Panasonic concurred that robots cannot offset the loss of human carers on quality of services. At this point. Japan leads in robots under development with SoftBank’s Pepper and NAO, with Toshiba’s ChihiraAiko ‘geisha robot’ (Guardian) debuting at CES 2015 and Toyota’s ongoing work with their Human Support Robot (HSR)–a moving article on its use with US Army CWO Romy Camargo is here. (attribution correction and addition–Ed.)

The next generation of care aids by now has moved away from comfort pets to sensors and software that anticipate care needs. Projects under development include self-driving toilets (sic) that move to the patient; mattress sensor-supplied AI which can sense toileting needs (DFree) and other bed activity; improved ‘communication robots’ which understand and deploy stored knowledge. Japan’s businesses also realize the huge potential of the $16 trillion China market–if China doesn’t get there first–and other Asian countries such as Thailand, a favored retirement spot for well-off Japanese. In Japanese discussions, ‘aging in place’ seems to be absent as an alternative, perhaps due to small families.

But Japan must move quickly, more so than the leisurely pace so far. Already Thailand is pioneering smart cities with Intel and Dell [TTA 16 Aug 16] and remote patient monitoring with Western companies such as Philips [TTA 30 Aug]. There’s the US and Western Europe, but incumbents are plentiful and the bumpy health tech ride tends not to suit Japanese companies’ deliberate style. Can they seize the day?  Financial Times (PDF here if paywalled) Hat tip to reader Susanne Woodman of BRE (Photo: Robear) 

Robot roundup: doctor cars, teleworkers, robogiggers, errant NAO robots

[grow_thumb image=”http://telecareaware.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/Overrun-by-Robots1-183×108.jpg” thumb_width=”200″ /]This month your Editor’s been ‘overrun by robots’ in the news! Here’s the roundup for your end of August reading, with an emphasis on how humans interact with robot helpers, especially at work:

[grow_thumb image=”http://telecareaware.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/7-who-needs-a-hospital-when-this-self-driving-doctor-comes.jpg” thumb_width=”150″ /]The doctor’s car has been around since the 1904 Buick, but the Seattle firm Artefact takes it one step further by combining the self-driving car with a fully automated clinic on wheels that arrives at your home, minus the doctor. Step in and it takes your weight, BMI, posture, respiration, and other sensor-based measurements guided through augmented reality instructions. It has a telemedicine interface in case you need a live virtual doctor. Medication? It’s a dispensary on wheels. Treatments? It will take you to a real doctor or provides AI-driven comparative information on treatment options. Artefact’s concept is part of their endless health monitoring continuum of care, which far more than the Doc Car is a little…creepy. FastCompany Design

Many of us are remote workers, but what if you could be in the office via a telepresence robot? A writer for Wired adopted an EmBot from Double Robotics so she could ‘be in the office’ in San Francisco while living in Boston. Her adventures with human-robot office interactions, developing relationship protocols, self-identification with it, and its many foibles (technical and otherwise) are a hoot. Hat tip to TTA Founder Steve Hards

Clark Kent would activate a robot to take his place at the Daily Planet while dashing off as Superman. Could a robot be your cyberself, working to provide you with an income stream in retirement? Or could you invest in robots working in the short-term robo-gig economy? Joseph Coughlin of MIT’s AgeLab in Forbes is quite certain that we’ll be hiring robot helpers around the house (including serving drinks) and some of us will become robopreneurs, sending out our robots to work. Far fetched? Froyo franchise kiosks (already promoted on radio in the US) serve up robot-prepared and sold frozen yogurt.

[grow_thumb image=”http://telecareaware.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/Nao.jpg” thumb_width=”170″ /]For your weekend reading (with coffee and a snack) is a study examining human reactions to a purposely programmed error-ridden NAO humanoid robot versus a behaving NAO in performing interactive tasks. The surprise is that people liked the faulty robot more than the perfect one. The study also gauged the human cues to errant behavior (sidelong gazes, laughter)–cues that could tell the robot it’s in error. To Err Is Robot: How Humans Assess and Act toward an Erroneous Social Robot (Frontiers in Robotics and AI) Second tipped hat to Steve More on SoftBank Robotics’ NAO here.

Robot greeter on the job at Ostend, Belgium hospital–and those killer robots

[grow_thumb image=”http://telecareaware.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/Robot-Belgique-1.png” thumb_width=”250″ /]This humanoid (but not Terminator-like, its developers are careful to say!) robot is currently on the job as a receptionist at Ostend, Belgium hospital AZ Damiaan. Equipped with healthcare-oriented software developed by local company Zora Robotics, the Aldebaran/SoftBank Robotics’ demure Pepper robot stands 1.2 meters (just under 4 feet), speaks 19 languages and works for about 20 hours on a single charge. Pepper communicates via its tablet interface but also is responsive to actions and emotions in what SoftBank calls a natural and intuitive way. The Pepper robot was first deployed in the hospital’s maternity area. The video has an awwwww…. illustration of a newborn grasping Pepper’s fingers. Previously, the toddler sized Nao robot worked with patients at AZ Damiaan for physical therapy. (Nao robots have also been featured in modern dance and as greeters at Japanese hotels and banks.) Reuters (video 1:51)

[grow_thumb image=”http://telecareaware.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/robottoy-1.jpg” thumb_width=”150″ /]This is a far more benign take on robots than the Daily Mail‘s recent screamer that “Killer robots are ‘quickly moving toward reality’ and humanity only has a YEAR to ban them” which conflates drone weaponry (human guided) with ground robots (human guided). As of now, They’re Still Puppets (more…)