A robotic bear developed by Japanese engineers can soon replace, or at least assist nurses in hospitals, by helping immobile or otherwise impaired patients.
Created by a team from Japan’s largest research institute RIKEN and a private company Sumitomo Riko, the robotic creature can lift and transport patients in its arms or support those less stable on their feet.
"We really hope that this robot will lead to advances in nursing care, relieving the burden on care-givers today,” said Toshiharu Mukai, leader of the Robot Sensor Systems Research Team at RIKEN. “We intend to continue with research toward more practical robots capable of providing powerful yet gentle care to elderly people."
Japan is well aware of the strain its aging population will put on the country’s healthcare system in the not so distant future. Transporting immobile patients, lifting them from their beds to the wheelchairs and back, is a task every member of the nursing staff has to carry out up to forty times a day, which frequently leads to chronic back pain.
Although the robot has not yet been tested in real hospital settings, the RIKEN researchers believe it could provide the right answer to the problem.
Equipped with actuator units with a very low gear ratio, the robot’s joints can move quickly and with precision. The system incorporates three types of sensors, including torque sensors and tactile sensors made entirely of rubber, ensuring the robot can perform power-intensive tasks such as lifting the patients but still be gentle enough not to hurt them.
The ROBEAR is based on an earlier creation called RIBA, which was introduced in 2011. Compared to its predecessor, ROBEAR is about 90kg lighter, at about 140kg, and capable of more subtle movements.
The robot also improves on its predecessors by having a small base, making the total system more lightweight. Its extendable legs prevent it from falling over but could be folded away to allow the bearoid robot to manoeuvre more easily through tight spaces.