Toyota enters orthopedics with robotic technology aimed at helping patients walk
Toyota recently announced exciting new robotic technology aimed at helping get people debilitated by strokes, joint disease, vascular disease, and other chronic conditions moving again. New technological advances by the automaker have the potential to aid patients in many ways, from the hospital to the home.
Take strokes for example. There is substantial data that early mobility helps the brain develop adaptive changes, prevents muscle atrophy, and more.
So in addition to the long-term benefits, this kind of assist technology has other potential benefits for patients.
Given that Japan is one of the world’s most rapidly aging nations, Toyota sees medical technology an important business opportunity.
The company aims to commercialize devices such as its “independent walk assist” device after 2013.
Toyota has previously demonstrated robotic technology at various showrooms where robots moved around and discussed Toyota cars with people as well as to the general press. Some of these human-shaped robots even played the trumpet and violin.
As can be seen, the technology is very promising. Eiichi Saitoh, a professor in rehabilitation medicine, demonstrated the “walk assist” device by clamping the computerized metallic brace onto his right leg, which was paralyzed by polio. This is seen in the opening picture.
“He showed reporters at a Toyota facility in Tokyo how the brace could bend at the knee as needed, allowing him to walk more naturally and rise from a chair with greater ease than the walker he now uses. Wearing a backpack-like battery, Saitoh walked up and down a flight of stairs, smiling with delight. Saitoh said he had tried Toyota’s machines with patients and was confident they helped people recover more quickly from strokes and other ailments that curtailed movement”
Toyota demonstrated an additional technology that has implications for the healthcare field.
“Toyota also demonstrated an intelligent machine with padded arms that can help health care workers lift disabled patients from their beds and then carry them around. Another mobility aid worked like a skateboard to help people relearn balance.”
Interestingly, the technology for these machines has a symbiotic relationship with Toyota vehicles. The sensors, small motors, and sophisticated computer software based on Toyota’s legacy of vehicle design is now being incorporated into these new machines for humans. Conversely, the data that is gathered from what they learn about mobility for people will likely be of use in future cars.
“General Manager Akifumi Tamaoki said more tests were needed on more people to insure safety and reliability, and gain user feedback, but the commercial products in the works were going to be smaller and lighter than the prototype versions shown.”
Prices and overseas sales plans of all the machines are still undecided, according to Toyota.