Healthcare and elder care is a big concern in Japan, whose population is aging more rapidly than their current human-centric infrastructure is prepared to cope with. Companies like Toyota are hoping that robots will be able to pick up a little bit of the slack, and this week they've introduced four new robotic systems designed to help keep people healthy and independent as long as possible.
The first couple systems are designed to provide single-leg walking assistance to people who have balance issues, or even people suffering from complete paralysis in one leg. The robotic structure (it's a lot like Cyberdyne's exoskeleton) is capable of supporting the entirety of your weight on one leg, and it will swing your leg forward for you as you walk. If you can hold yourself up, the second system will provide you with visual feedback to help you get your balance back and start walking on your own.
If that's not exciting enough for you, the third system turns balance training into a game. You can play virtual games of tennis, football, or basketball, and you'll be challenged to maintain your balance while controlling your character on the screen:
The final system is more for caretakers than patients; it's a robot that helps someone transfer someone else from (say) a bed to (say) a toilet. And, well, there's a demo of that, too:
As you can see, all of these prototypes are currently operational, and Toyota is expecting commercialization to occur sometime in 2013.
Evan Ackerman is a senior editor at IEEE Spectrum. Since 2007, he has written over 6,000 articles on robotics and technology. He has a degree in Martian geology and is excellent at playing bagpipes.