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Seeing-eye robots? Bots for elderly draw crowds at iRex

The largest-ever edition of Tokyo's iRex robot trade show promotes ideas for an aging society.

Nachi robot
With an aging population, Japan is building more humanoid robots like this Nachi assembly bot that has a stereo camera for object recognition. Tim Hornyak/CNET

TOKYO -- We can all look forward to growing old with buckets of bolts that will watch over us, assist us, and maybe even entertain us.

That's the message at the International Robot Exhibition (iRex), a trade show here highlighting elderly care along with the latest developments in factory automation.

Marking its 20th year, iRex drew 334 companies and groups, its largest showing ever, with 100,000 visitors expected.

While there were no knockout exhibits, the biennial state-backed exhibit was notably more peppy than previous editions overshadowed by the global financial crisis.

iRex has grown in its offerings, from a strong focus on industrial robots to exhibits that take in everything from Toyota Partner Robots with pliable joints to Fanuc food robots that help make traditional bento boxed meals.

Major industry player Kawasaki showed off its gorgeous seven-jointed, stainless steel MSR arm for drug preparation, while startups also jostled for position in the medical and caregiving space.

Nano Optonics Energy, for instance, was showing off the Unimo, a $10,000 deluxe robotic wheelchair on treads that can travel through snow and sand.

Terapio from Adtex, meanwhile, is a roving hospital robot with a cartoon face, camera system, and compartments for transporting medical records and equipment.

People who have trouble walking due to visual impairment or a physical infirmity can take a stroll with Lighbot, a kind of cane on wheels with obstacle sensors and a pressure-sensitive handle.

Unlike a seeing-eye dog, however, it needs to be recharged. So don't expect man's best friend to become obsolete anytime soon. Check out more pics from iRex 2013 in the gallery above.