Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Gentle Giant Robot Bear Developed to Assist Humans In Need of Strong, Helpful Arms

"This cuddly Japanese robot bear could be the future of elderly care

'Bears are powerful and also cute.'

Deep in the bowels of a secluded facility outside the central Japanese city of Nagoya, a team of dedicated researchers has been working on a monster. It’s a primal, animalistic robot that uses advanced technology to power its intelligent vision, flexible movement, and giant arms strong enough to lift a human right off the ground. It could have profound implications for the relationship between man and machine.
But perhaps most importantly, it is very cute.

Meet Robear. It’s a high-tech teddy with a mission: helping make elderly care much easier in the future.
Robear is the brainchild of Toshiharu Mukai (above left), an affable scientist who has been leading his Robot Sensor Systems Research Team at the Riken-SRK Collaboration Center for Human-Interactive Robot Research since 2007. It’s actually Mukai’s third robot bear, following 2009’s RIBA and 2011’s RIBA-II. Why the ursine fixation? "Bears are powerful and also cute," Mukai tells me. "And our product is white so it will be associated with cleanness."

Cute robots are a
definite trend. Japanese carrier SoftBank is selling its congenial, dubiously useful Pepper this year, in perhaps the biggest mainstream splash yet made by a humanoid.

This month, leading national bank Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ
installed Aldebaran’s Nao robot as an assistant in its flagship branch. And Mukai believes that appearance is more than just skin-deep when it comes to robots. "[It’s important that they’re] cute or friendly," he says. "Patients, especially old people, don’t like mechanical appearance. Patients need to feel that robots are their friends."
That’s especially true with Robear, because it’s a robot that gets very paws-on. Robear is designed to perform tasks such as helping elderly patients stand up, or lifting them from a bed into a wheelchair. The latter task can be severely strenuous for care workers, who do it an average of 40 times a day, according to Mukai. It’s no secret that Japan’s aging population is one of the biggest problems facing the country, and researchers are hoping to find solutions in technology. It’s important for Robear to make a good first impression..."

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