Robot Invasion: Toyota Unveils Four Healthcare “Assistants”

Mashable notes: 
Toyota unveiled four robots designed to accomplish ambitious objectives at a Tokyo event Tuesday: Help paralyzed patients walk or balance and help their caretakers gently transport them between locations. The company hopes to commercialize the products sometime after 2013.

One of Toyota’s new robots guides patients’ strides when sensors detect the intention to walk. The Walk Training Assist robot, shown at right, mounts onto a paralyzed leg and detects movement of the hips through sensors at the thigh and foot. It helps the knee swing forward and the leg move forward to facilitate walking.

Toyota also released the Independent Walk Assist, pictured at left, designed for walking training. In addition to guiding the leg to bend and move forward, the robot can support a patient’s weight. As the patient improves, it can be adjusted to progressively support less weight. The machine also monitors metrics such as joint angels so physicians can more easily track a patient’s progress.

The third product Toyota demoed Tuesday is also designed for rehabilitation training. The Balance Training Assist, pictured below, is a two-wheeled balancing game that looks something like a Segway. The machine displays one of three games (tennis, soccer or basketball) on a monitor and the patient makes moves in the game by shifting his or her weight on the robot.

Unlike its other new robots, the fourth robot at Toyota’s showcase is intended to assist caregivers as well as care recipients. The Patient Transfer Assist, shown at bottom, has weight-supporting arms and a mobile platform that helps move a patient, for instance, from bed to the toilet and back. A Toyota spokesperson said the machine is intentded to be gentle and create an experience similar to being carried by a person.

All four machines were developed in collaboration with Fujita Health University Hospital in Aichi Prefecture, Japan, which provided feedback on the needs of specialized medical facilities to incorporate in the robots’ designs.

While healthcare might not be the first industry consumers associate with Toyota, the company has been running a robotics department since 2005, when it started the “Partner Robot Division,” which it first announced publicly in 2007. The division, which employs about 200 people, concentrates on robot-based solutions for medical, manufacturing, short-distance personal transport and domestic chore problems. In the past, it has produced robots that play music or provide personal transportation.

Toyota isn’t the only company in the automotive industry making such investments. Honda, for instance, has created a robot called Asimo that can walk and dance like a human. It used technologies created during Asimo’s development to make a walking assist device that performs a similar function to Toyota’s newly unveiled independent Walk Assist robot.

Toyota Patient Transfer Assist