Japan’s Tech Solution for Its Aging Population
The demographic statistics in Japan are pretty concerning…
- One in four of the country’s 130 million citizens is over the age of 65. That figure will grow to one in three in 20 years.
- With the exception of Monaco, Japan is also the world’s oldest society, with a median age of about 45. Much of that is due to Japan having the world’s longest life expectancy. On average, men live to 80 and women live to 86.
Aside from worries over Japan’s shrinking workforce, this means care for the elderly is a growing priority.
Yet Japan plans to continue spending less on healthcare than the United States. Currently, the OECD says Japanese healthcare spending is around 10.3% of GDP, versus 16.9% here.
So how does Japan plan to address this issue?
By unleashing a new wave of technology that the country has become renowned for…
When you think of Japanese-made robots, you usually think of automated industrial robots. But that’s rapidly changing.
One ingredient to its “secret sauce” will be the increasing use of robots in elderly care.
Over the next two decades, Japan forecasts that the market for “care service” robots will climb to $3.7 billion. To put that in perspective, the market right now is estimated at a mere $155 million.
Propelling this growth is 2.4 billion yen ($19.8 million) worth of government subsidies to robotics manufacturers. This will allow at least some of the robots available to cost less than 100,000 yen each, or about $825.
Families will also be able to use home nursing insurance to help pay for the robots.
So which companies are leading the charge?
Japanese Giants Poised for Massive Sales Boost
It’s little surprise to see a well-known giant like Panasonic (PCRFY) in the mix here.
The company is developing a bed that transforms into a wheelchair. The bed splits in half, with one half folding into a chair and removing the need to lift someone out of a bed and into a wheelchair.
Indeed, it’s the very first service robot to be ISO13482 compliant, the new global safety standard for such devices.
Panasonic says that by 2025, its service robot sales will soar eight-fold.
The company is joined in the elderly care robot revolution by Yaskawa Electric (YASKY).
Best known for its industrial robots, Yaskawa Electric will begin selling a robot in 2016 that will transport a person from a bed to a wheelchair or the toilet. Yaskawa hopes its service robot sales will soar five-fold by the end of the next fiscal year.
That’s not all, though…
Meet Robear – the Robot “Teddy”
Perhaps the most interesting concept in the use of robots comes from research scientist, Toshiharu Mukai.
He’s developed Robear – a high-tech, almost cuddly teddy bear (well, as cuddly as a robot can be!) whose goal is to help the elderly.
Robear will use its “paws” to help an elderly person get up, or lift them out of bed and into a wheelchair.
But fear not… Robear won’t just grab haphazardly and dump the human down roughly. Its many sensors and actuators allow it to perform the task gently. It also has a Microsoft Kinect depth-sensing camera to detect bodies in front of it, plus a slot in the back for a Nexus 7 tablet, which enables touchscreen control.
Heck, Robear even does a Japanese bow of respect and waves hello when it raises its head again!
Take a look at the guy in action…
In all, Robear should alleviate the burden on caregivers, who may have to lift a patient many times a day.
Right now, however, cost is a problem for the robot. The cutting-edge technology within it means the prototype costs between $150,000 and $250,000. But with further advances in technology and wider adoption, the price could decline in future versions.
I’ll keep you posted on developments in this area.