|Published : 12 Apr 2017, 22:04:30|
Japan automakers turn to robots for easing elderly population’s move
TOKYO, Apr 12 (Reuters): Japanese automakers are looking beyond the industry trend to develop self-driving cars and turning their attention to robots to help keep the country's rapidly greying society on the move.
Toyota Motor Corp said it saw the possibility of becoming a mass producer of robots to help the elderly in a country whose population is ageing faster than the rest of the world as the birthrate decreases.
The country's changing demographics place its automakers in a unique situation. Along with the issues usually associated with falling populations such as labour shortages and pension squeezes, Japan also faces dwindling domestic demand for cars.
Toyota, the world's second largest automaker, made its first foray into commercialising rehabilitation robots on Wednesday, launching a rental service for its walk assist system, which helps patients to learn how to walk again after suffering strokes and other conditions.
Toyota's system follows the release by Honda Motor Co of its own walking assist "robotic legs" in 2015, which was based on technology developed for its ASIMO dancing robot. "If there's a way that we can enable more elderly people to stay mobile after they can no longer drive, we have to look beyond just cars and evolve into a maker of robots," Toshiyuki Isobe, chief officer of Toyota's Frontier Research Centre, told Reuters in an interview on Wednesday.
Speaking to reporters, he added that mass producing robots would be a natural step for the company which evolved from a loom maker in 1905 into an automaker whose mission is to "make practical products which serve a purpose". "Be it robots or cars, if there's a need for mass produced robots, we should do it with gusto," Isobe said.