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Disabled, elderly enjoy a robotic helping hand

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Dec 02,2005

A robot developed at Sogang University. Courtesy of the university

Amid rising concerns about an aging society, the development of robots that exclusively aid senior citizens has been gaining popularity. A research team at Sogang University recently developed a robot that helps disabled people and the elderly who have trouble with mobility. A person is attached to the robot’s metallic arms at the waist, and the machine slowly leads the person, step by step. The robotic arms also support the person when he or she is sitting down. In developed countries, work on such robots has been gathering pace. Although the humanoid robot Asimo, developed in Japan, has been enjoying great popularity around the world, its practical use has been limited so far. Robots aimed at an aging society must have a practical application, such as helping to feed the disabled and elderly. Care-O-bot, a robot developed by the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing, Engineering and Automation IPA in Germany, is acknowledged as the most advanced elder-care robot. It not only helps the elderly get around, like the robot developed by the team at Sogang University, but can also fetch items that a person requests, such as orange juice. The robot can turn on a television and even water plants. Its software programming can inform the owner of the timetable for taking medications. A number of people are paralyzed after suffering a stroke. Therefore, in the United States and Europe, there is strong interest in “therapy” robots that can help stroke victims. Although the number of stroke patients is increasing, the development of such robots has been slow. A robot produced by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology helps stroke victims regain some functions through the repetition of certain moves that stimulate the damaged portions of their nervous system. The University of California at Berkeley, meanwhile, developed a robot for the military that is of use in lifting heavy objects. The robot can be adapted for use by seniors who lack the strength to carry objects around. Rutgers University in New Jersey developed a robot that helps patients who suffer from arthritis; the patients wear robotic parts that facilitate movement. Since last year, the European Union has been financing a project called “Aladdin,” that is developing therapy robots for stroke victims. In Europe, a robot that helps feed elderly people has also been developed. But robots are not just for practical use. In Japan, robotic pets were developed for the elderly. A robotic dog can imitate most of the actions of a real, live dog, such as gently closing its eyes when being petted. And there are no hygiene concerns, as might be the case with an animal. Every region of the world is working on developing such practical robots, although the market for them has not yet been established, in large part because of their high cost. Still, it seems clear that in the future robots will be a part of everyday life. by Park Bang-ju


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