David Zax

A View from David Zax

Meet Toyota's Robotic Nurses

Toyota’s robots could help rehabilitate or transport the injured or ill.

  • November 10, 2011

And you thought Toyota was just a car company. In fact, the Japanese corporation has dabbled in non-automotive activities of various stripes for years. Among its most intriguing off-roading jaunts is Toyota’s interest in robotics, something it’s been exploring for about five years now. Recently, it unveiled four healthcare robots that it hopes to commercialize in the next two years, according to Mashable. Toyota teamed up with Fujita Health University on all the projects.

Most of the robots were essentially mechanized physical therapeutic devices. The Walk Training Assist Robot, for instance, could mount on a paralyzed leg, detect when a patient wants to move, and then help the knee and leg swing forward. (It puts me in mind of this robotic exoskeleton that recently helped a paralyzed student walk.) A second, related, product, the Independent Walk Assist, can support the patient’s full weight at first, gradually bearing less and less of the load as the patient improves and can support himself.

A third concept, the Balance Training Assist, resembles a pared-down Segway crossed with a Wii. You play virtual tennis, soccer, or basketball on the machine, shifting your weight to maintain your balance.

The fourth robot is different in kind from the others. The Patient Transfer Assist is like a robotic assistant nurse that helps a patient move from one place to another–from the toilet to the bed, for instance. From the looks of this video, it wouldn’t be intended to replace a nurse entirely, but to help add a bit of muscle power if a patient’s weight is too much for the nursing staff at hand to handle. (Thanks to Automaton for spotting these videos on YouTube.)

Toyota’s just one of several companies that has been dabbling in medical robotics of late. Robotic surgery, “telerounding” robots, and a sponge-bath-giving robotic nurse are a few of the other robo-medical innovations spotted recently. We don’t seem to be at a tipping point yet, though, where robotic healthcare workers become ubiquitous. Might it be because, as Steve Ditlea wrote over a decade ago, “The bedside manner is a tad impersonal”?

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