The Critical 'I'

Read. React. Repeat.

Thursday, August 21, 2003

domo arrigato, mister roboto
I get the feeling that, in the very near future, "robot" and "Japan" will become inseparable and indistinguishable from one another. They must be pouring billions into developing the latest and greatest in robotics over there. The latest is a robotic suit, really an exoskeleton from the looks of it, that will help the frail and the disabled get around easier. The picture here is of a college student showing off a prototype; a finished commercial version is just about ready for sale. Future refinement will make this thing as concealable as underwear, so that you won't look like some kind of superpowered parapalegic.

Most intriguing: A mention that, in addition to supporting muscle movements, it will enable the wearers to "seat themselves to relax without a chair". That's kick-ass! Imagine seeing that on the street somewhere.

As always, the social component is what interests me most here, and indeed, this invention was designed to address Japan's rapidly increasing elder population:

[Yoshiyuki Sankai, professor and engineer at Tsukuba University and inventor of the suit] also noted that Japan's greying society was a key consideration behind the development of the suit.

"As the country is heading rapidly towards an ageing society, the demand for such a robotic support system will certainly grow," the professor said.

"Not only the elderly but also disabled people will be able to live comfortably, leaving heavy physical tasks to the suit," he said.

The need for Japan to take measures to deal with its ageing society is increasingly urgent. The proportion of people aged 65 or older in Japan came to a record high of 18.82 per cent, according to the latest government report on population released on Wednesday.