Caring from far away: The robot that transmits touch

TOKYO (Reuters) - Can robots help solve the problem of an aging population in growing need of physical help but lacking the money and carers to provide it?

Japan’s Toyota Motor Corp thinks they can, if they are equipped to mimic the touch and actions of a carer located far away.

Toyota’s latest humanoid robot, T-HR3, demonstrated on Wednesday at Tokyo’s International Robot Exhibition, is controlled remotely by a human operator.

Goggles let the operator see what the robot sees, gloves let them feel what the robot touches - enough for the operator, via the robot, to pour a drink or carry out other delicate manual tasks, all by remote control.

“You can look after someone when you’re not there, or care for someone while you’re working at home,” said the manager of Toyota Motor’s Humanoid Robot Group, Tomohisa Moridaira.

He noted that the carer can also take advantage of the robot’s extra muscle: “People who are not strong can do heavy work from a remote place.”

Another growing care need, keeping the elderly mobile and active, is the job of the ‘Orthobot’, manufactured by Suncall.

A pack worn on the body controls the movements of a long brace that helps the leg to bend and stretch for walking.

“We want to break the barrier of people not wanting go outside because they can’t walk. We want them to have a good social life,” said Suncall’s Rei Takahashi.

About 130,000 people are expected to visit the International Robot Exhibition, which runs until Saturday.

Writing by Kevin Liffey; Editing by Hugh Lawson