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) 

Fancy £35,000 to develop a Quantified Self solution to meet a real need?

Innovate UK has announced a £175k IC tomorrow innovation contest focusing on Quantified Self, launching Monday 14 September.

As most TTA readers will be well aware, Quantified Self relates to the use of digital technology in self-tracking, monitoring and sensing to improve wellbeing. In particular the contest will be looking for solutions relating to the areas of: nutrition, older people, younger people, mental health and data capture. The winning solutions will focus on ways of empowering users to take ownership of their data to influence behaviour change and improve wellbeing.

The contest will include five challenges each offering up to £35,000 and the chance to work with one of challenge partners: Jamie Oliver, Toshiba, AXA PPP Insurance, Saga and Bupa. The winning company will trial their solution with the challenge partner over a period of three months.

The Knowledge Transfer Network is running two briefing events for this call. To register please sign up below:  (more…)

The Future of Medicine – Technology & the Role of the Doctor in 2025 – a brief summary

The following is a brief summary of a joint Royal Society of Medicine/Institute of Engineering & Technology event held at the Academy of Medical Sciences on 6th May. The event was organised, extremely professionally, by the IET events team. The last ticket was sold half an hour before the start, so it was a genuine sell-out.

The speakers for the event were jointly chosen by this editor and by Prof Bill Nailon, who leads the Radiotherapy Physics, Image Analysis and Cancer Informatics Group at the Department of Oncology Physics, Edinburgh and is also a practising radiological consultant. As more of those invited by Prof Nailon were available than those invited by this editor, the day naturally ended up with a strong focus on advances in the many aspects of radiology as applied to imaging & treating cancer, as a surrogate for the wider examination of how medicine is changing.

The event began with a talk by Prof Ian Kunkler, Consultant Clinical Oncologist & Professor in Clinical Oncology at the Edinburgh Cancer research Centre. Prof Kunkler began by evidencing his statement that radiotherapy delivers a 50% reduction in breast cancer reappearance, compared with surgery alone. He stressed the importance of careful targeting of tumours with radiotherapy – not an easy task, especially if the patient is unavoidably moving (eg breathing) – Cyberknife enables much more precise targeting of tumours as it compensates for such movement. Apparently studies have shown that 55% of cancer patients will require radiotherapy at some point in their illness.

This was followed by Prof Joachim Gross, Chair of Systems Neuroscience, Acting Director of the Centre for Cognitive Neuroimaging & Wellcome Trust Senior Investigator, University of Glasgow, talking about magnetoencephalopathy (MEG), which enables excellent spatial & temporal resolution of the brain. However it currently uses superconducting magnets that in turn require liquid helium, so is very expensive to run. He then showed an atomic magnetometer which apparently is developing fast and will be a much cheaper alternative to MEG – he expects people will be able to wear sensors embedded in a cap soon. He then went on to show truly excellent graphics on decoding brain signals with incredible precision; he explained that the 2025 challenge is understanding how the different brain areas interact. Finally he described neurostimulation, using an alternating magnetic field with the same frequency as brain waves to change behaviour; whence the emergence of neuromodulation as a new therapy. Both exciting, and just a little scary.

Dr David Clifton, Lecturer, Dept of Engineering Science & Computational Informatics Group, University of Oxford, followed with a talk on real-time patient monitoring. He began by explaining the challenges that clinicians face with this wall of patient data coming towards them: only “big data in healthcare” enables all the data generated by patients to be analysed to identify the early warning signals that are so important to minimise death and maximise recovery. (more…)

Smartwatches as the 2014 tablet, redux

Mobihealthnews does a very good roundup of smartwatchesboth familiar and not in this 10 page report. Most are in kickstarter mode, raising funds and some may never see daylight, but all a Pointer to the Near Future:  Pebble, AGENT, Kreyos Meteor (sounds like a sportscar), Sony Smartwatch, i’m Watch (from Italia), Motorola’s MotoActv, Androidly, Neptune Pine, the unfortunately named GEAK Watch, Toshiba, the Qualcomm Zola and the rumored Apple iWatch and Google Watch. If you want to watch smartwatches more, there is a website called The Smart Watch Review10 smartwatches that may take on fitness trackers

Previously in TTA: Smartwatches as the 2013-2014 tablet…and will they knock out fitness bands? at the end of the ‘Apple-ologist” article. A situation we spotted two weeks ago.