August 27, 2009

Japan Firm Invents High-Tech Wheelchair

Japan has produced yet another robotic wonder.

Medical and robotic experts have come out with a hi-tech electric wheelchair that could help mobilize the disabled.

The four-wheeled Rodem allows users to ride it like a scooter, rather than like a regular wheelchair. It is steered with a joystick and has motorcycle-style handles, with comfortable cushions to support the knees and chest. 

The inventors of the new design say that users are able to get on and off with ease, giving them greater independence from care-givers.

"I believe this is a whole new idea for a wheelchair," said Makoto Hashizume, head of the Veda International Robot Research and Development Center and a medical professor of Kyushu University.

"With this vehicle, users can move around more freely and more actively without much help from other people."

The electric wheelchair will be the very first invention to be debuted by the Veda center, which opened in May in southwestern Munakata city. It is a collaborative effort with Japanese robot maker Tmsuk Co. along with researchers from ten different universities and institutes.

The objective of the robotic and medical specialists, including those from Germany and Italy, is to design robots that could be useful in the health and nursing field. With their quickly aging population, Japan has proven to be the pioneer in this area so far.

Though they say there are no immediate plans to make the new wheelchair available commercially, the inventors have said they are open to taking offers from private companies in Japan and overseas. The process would still take quite a bit of time, and they first have to meet government safety standards.

The new wheelchair design could have even broader uses, according to Tmsuk president Yoichi Takamoto, who says it could be even be used by fully able people to ride for pleasure.

The design is still too simple to be referred to as a robot, but Takamoto said that the Rodem may very well become one over time.

"We can add more robot-like functions in future," he said. "For example, we could add a new function so it comes to your bedside when you call."


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