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Experimental robot could help nurses of the future lift patients

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Scientists in Japan have developed an experimental nursing care robot, which is capable of tasks such as lifting a patient from a bed or providing assistance to someone who requires help standing.

Dubbed the “Robear”, the device is being viewed by its creators as leading the way to new approaches to providing care, especially for older patients.

The new robot weighs 140 kilograms and incorporates a number of features that enable it to exert force in a “gentle way”, according to its developers at the research institution Riken and the Sumitomo Riko Company.

Specifically, they said it had actuator units with a very low gear ratio, allowing the joints to move very quickly and precisely, and allowing softer movement.

“We really hope that this robot will lead to advances in nursing care”

Toshiharu Mukai

It also incorporates three types of sensors, which allow for gentle movements and ensuring that the robot can perform power-intensive tasks such as lifting patients without endangering them.

It avoids falling over through the use of legs that can be extended when necessary for lifting a patient, but retracted to allow the robot to manoeuver through tight spaces such as doorways.

The robot’s creators said that Japan’s rapidly increasing older population meant there was an urgent need for new approaches to assist healthcare workers.

In particular, they noted that one of the most strenuous tasks for staff was lifting a patient from a bed into a wheelchair, which was a major cause of lower back pain.

Robots are well-suited to this task, yet none have so far been deployed in healthcare settings, they said.

Research team leader Toshiharu Mukai said: “We really hope that this robot will lead to advances in nursing care, relieving the burden on care-givers today.

“We intend to continue with research toward more practical robots capable of providing powerful yet gentle care to elderly people,” he said.

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