Robots in Medical Technology — Japan Takes the Lead

Photo: Medical robot

Photo: Robot suit HAL;
© Cyberdyne/Tsukuba University

Japan set the standard for robots used on production lines, and now the country plans to repeat this success with robots for the service, care & medical industries.

Most of the players are the same. For example, Toyota, the company partly responsible for the proliferation of robots in automobile production, introduced the concept of “partner robots” during the Aichi World Expo in 2005. At the time, robots playing music stood in the spotlight — an ambitious venture, but the emphasis was on entertainment rather than utility. Today, however, care robots are poised to be one of Toyota’s core business fields, augmenting the successes of their automotive, housing and other industries.

Panasonic is using their expertise to develop robots that can wash a person’s hair and others that distribute medicine — both of which have multiple applications in places such as hospitals, retirement homes, and hospice care facilities. Another example is “Paro,” a soft, baby seal-shaped robot developed by the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST). Nowadays, Paro can be found in institutions across Europe, utilized in the care for patients with dementia.

Japanese companies continue to explore more real-world applications for robots. As the medical industry is forecast to play an important role, you can expect to see the latest innovations in robotics at MEDICA, the leading trade fair in this field. For example, at MEDICA 2011, the Kobayashi Lab at the Tokyo University of Science presented a robotic suit powered by artificial, pneumatic muscles. In 2012, the Tokyo Institute of Technology (TIT) revealed a laparoscopic operation system that utilized a pneumatically driven robotic holder. This year, the presence of Japanese robot technology experienced another boost: TIT (Halle 11 / H75) will showcase the latest version of their robotic holder, and Sanwa Robotics will present supply parts for medical robots at COMPAMED (Halle 08b / F41).

One of the highlights this year will certainly be the latest model of HAL® (Hybrid Assistive Limb)® by Cyberdyne Inc. (Halle 16 / B31). HAL® is a wearable robotic suit that can supplement, expand or improve the user’s physical capabilities. Professor Yoshiyuki SANKAI is the founder of Cyberdyne Inc., a professor at the renowned Tsukuba University and a frequent guest at Düsseldorf trade fairs — most recently at K, the leading trade fair for the plastics and rubber industry this past October. His Cyberdyne’s HAL® is the only system that captures movement impulses directly from the brain and translates them into motor movements. The robotic suit therefore offers new opportunities for its users, most notably for paraplegic patients, who could potentially regain their independence.

In Europe, Cyberdyne Inc. acts through its subsidiary Cyberdyne Care Robotics GmbH with the German Social Accident Insurance University Clinic Bergmannsheil GmbH and the Centre for Neurorobotic Movement Training (ZNB) in Bochum. During MEDICA, presentations will be held at the booth in Hall 16 / B 31.; Source: Messe Düsseldorf Japan