Being picked up and carried around by a giant teddy bear isn't something I've dreamed about lately, but Japanese researchers have achieved this fantasy with Riba II.
The latest generation of theis designed to help caregivers move increasing numbers of elderly patients who can't get around unaided.
Developed by the Riken research center and Tokai Rubber Industries, the new Robot for Interactive Body Assistance can now lift patients weighing up to 176 pounds, better than its previous load limit of 134 pounds.
It can also bend down and deposit or pick up patients on the floor. This is useful in Japan, where people often sleep on futon floor bedding or relax on floor tatami mats.
Riken says caregivers on average lift patients from floor bedding into wheelchairs 40 times a day, adding that the elderly nursing-care population in Japan will hit 5.69 million by 2015.
Covered in soft materials, Riba II can do floor lifting thanks to joints that have been added to its base and lower back. The robot operates with a caregiver guiding its actions (see the promo vid here), so someone still has to be around but doesn't have to do the lifting.
Sensors made of electrodes on a sheet are located in its chest and arms. Data from these sensors is used to safely manipulate the patient, as well as direct Riba's movements. The 500-pound machine can also move around autonomously after being programmed via a touch screen on its back.
Riken is set to test Riba at nursing homes in Japan, and eventually bring the bear to market. But don't get your hopes up, because it may sell for as much as $77,000.