Japan Promotes Practical Application of Home-use Robots

Aug 5, 2009
Tatsuhiko Hayashi, Nikkei Automotive Technology
The robots to be developed in the "Home-use Robot Practical Application Project." Cyberdyne's wearable robot suits were tried on.
The robots to be developed in the "Home-use Robot Practical Application Project." Cyberdyne's wearable robot suits were tried on.
[Click to enlarge image]
FHI's cleaning robot (left) and Toyota Motor's ridable robot (right)
FHI's cleaning robot (left) and Toyota Motor's ridable robot (right)
[Click to enlarge image]
The ridable robot circles when the weight is rested on one of the foots. And when the weight is shifted forward or backward, the robot moves ahead or back, respectively.
The ridable robot circles when the weight is rested on one of the foots. And when the weight is shifted forward or backward, the robot moves ahead or back, respectively.
[Click to enlarge image]

NEDO, an independent administrative institution in Japan, announced Aug 3, 2009, the outlines of the "Home-use Robot Practical Application Project," which will be carried out for five years from fiscal 2009.

The goals of this project are to promote the commercialization of home-use robots, whose market is smaller than that for industrial robots, and to develop safety technologies and standards, which have been major issues.

Furthermore, the project aims to develop various home-use robots with those safety technologies. The budget allocated to the project is ¥7.6 billion (approx US$80 million).

The project has two development themes. One is to develop safety standards and evaluation methods for the safety of home-use robots. As for this theme, Japan Automobile Research Institute (JARI), National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST), etc will develop them in collaboration with research bases to be set up with the 2009 supplementary budget.

NEDO is planning to propose those safety standards to ISO in hope of making them international standards.

The second development theme is to develop five types of home-use robots, which are (1) a robot that can be used both as a wheel chair and bed, (2) a cleaning robot that can be used during daytime hours, (3) a security robot that can be used during daytime hours, (4) a wearable robot suit that assists daily activities and (5) a two-wheeled ridable robot. Panasonic Corp, Fuji Heavy Industries (FHI) Ltd, Sohgo Security Services Co Ltd, Cyberdyne Inc and Toyota Motor Corp will be contracted to develop the five robots, respectively.

While there are operational measures for industrial robots to be used in closed spaces, safety functions have not yet been established for home-use robots to coexist with an unspecified number of people. Therefore, NEDO plans to develop such functions through the verification tests of the robots.

At the press conference, FHI's cleaning robot, Cyberdyne's robot suit and Toyota Motor's ridable robot were demonstrated. The cleaning robot is currently used at night and carried by service elevators, but cleaning companies have been requesting a robot that can be used with human staff in the daytime. Therefore, FHI intends to verify the safety of the robot by, for example, conducting a test of carrying it by an elevator with human staff.

The robot suit is to assist the wearer to walk and do other daily activities by detecting biopotential signals and controlling the motors attached to the joints. Cyberdyne aims to develop stabilization technologies for its drive force and load fluctuation, safety control technologies, self-diagnosis technologies and safety evaluation methods.

The ridable robot is based on Toyota Motor's "Winglet," a personal transport assistant. And the company intends to develop a safe design, safety evaluation method assuming senior users and software to unfailingly halt the robot if an abnormality occurs.

As for the software, Toyota Motor aims to realize functional safety by using a real-time OS of Four Link Systems Inc. Toyota Motor has so far used its proprietary OS but is now making a prototype using the new OS. The company plans to test the safety of the robot by using multiple robots at the National Center for Geriatrics and Gerontology.