Fitness bot whips Japanese seniors into shape

Taizo, which looks like Frosty the Snowman in a pressure suit, is designed to help lead elderly Japanese in calisthenics routines.

Tim Hornyak
Crave freelancer Tim Hornyak is the author of "Loving the Machine: The Art and Science of Japanese Robots." He has been writing about Japanese culture and technology for a decade. E-mail Tim.
Tim Hornyak
2 min read
General Robotix

Japan has developed a fitness robot to help its rapidly aging population stay in shape.

Taizo is a small humanoid bot that can perform a number of calisthenics routines. It's covered with a plush white material and looks like Frosty the Snowman in a pressure suit.

Taizo, a play on "taiso" (gymnastics), has 26 joints, or degrees of freedom, and can do about 30 moves, mostly while sitting down. Its internal structure is fairly simple and resembles many of the robot kits sold in hobby stores in Japan.

The National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST), a state-run research center, and General Robotix, a spinoff company, created Taizo to help lead groups of older Japanese in rehabilitation exercises and general fitness routines.

Taizo's head, hands, and feet are made of fiberglass reinforced plastic. Its body weighs about 14 pounds and stands roughly 2 feet tall. It can recognize simple voice commands and can link to external computers via Bluetooth and wireless LAN. A single battery charge allows it to operate for about two hours.

The developers plan to start leasing Taizo units next year, but did not say for how much. According to a Sankei News report, they plan to sell the robots for about $8,000 apiece.

That may sound exorbitant, but two key factors will help Taizo's commercialization. One is the vast number of elderly and infirm Japanese who need help with mobility and exercise. The number of centenarians in the country has doubled to more than 40,000 over the past six years, and it's expected to hit almost 1 million by 2050. Since Japan sees little to no immigration, there is a labor shortage and machines are expected to meet the demand for workers.

Second, group calisthenics is something very close to the hearts of many older Japanese. Most know it through broadcaster NHK's daily "rajio taiso" (radio exercise) programs, which have been on the air for an astounding 80 years. About 20 percent of the entire population, or 27 million people, still do radio warm-ups every day.

That's a lot of friends for little Taizo.

(Via Pink Tentacle)