Huffington Post: Japan Turns to Robots for Senior Care; Is U.S. Next?

As Japan’s population experiences higher life expectancy and decreased birthrates, the country’s government is turning to “service robots” to alleviate the country’s lack of manpower and help elderly with daily tasks, according to a Huffington Post blog article. 

With a robot that converts from a bed to a wheelchair upon command and another that assists seniors who are losing use of their arms to wash their hair, Japan has taken a giant leap into the eldercare technology realm. As America’s baby boomers retire at a rate of 10,000 per day, the U.S. could follow in the robot trend, suggests the article.

Huffington Post reports:


The scenario seems the stuff of pulp science fiction: An isolated civilization rapidly ages, with too few youngsters to support a growing population of old adults. Leaders instead look to build the next generation out of robots.

The shift in Japan is unique among major countries. By 2050, Japan’s population will have aged nearly 20 percent more to a median of 53 years old. The trend is so rapid that the island nation has become a trailblazer for aging-related policies. “Japan is like a laboratory — a canary in the coal mine,” Koichi Akaishi, an analyst at a government-related think tank in Japan, told the Wall Street Journal.

With its faster-growing elderly population, Japan has been quicker to embrace robots. In 2005, Japanese factories were using more than 370,000 robots, according to the Associated Press, which is three times as many as were active in the U.S. A 2007 plan from Japan’s Trade Ministry projected that one million industrial robots could be installed by 2025, and with an industrial robot typically as productive as 10 workers, they could replace about 15% of Japan’s workforce.


Toyota last fall unveiled four examples of “partner robots” to help patients. While none look human, three would help with rehabilitation, and one would help aides move patients in and out of beds. An example is the Walk Training Assist robot that would mount onto a paralyzed leg and guide a patient’s steps when sensors detect movement of the hips that the machine interprets as an intention to walk. The robot would help swing the knee and leg forward.

Proponents acknowledge that the dependence on robots might create some discomfort.
“People are still asking whether people really want robots running around their homes, and folding their clothes,” Damian Thong, an analyst at Macquarie Bank in Tokyo, told the Associated Press.

Read the full Huffington Post article here

Written by Erin Hegarty