It’s 2015. Smartphones, tablets, and other smart devices have been sewn into the fabric of our daily lives. Because smart technologies are so common, it can be assumed that a majority of individuals are familiar with robots in some form. In terms of assistive technology, the field of robotics offers an indefinite amount of promise. This is reflected in the recent development coined “Robear,” by Japanese research institute, Riken.
Robear is a caregiver designed to help transfer individuals from their beds or wheelchairs. It is not a standard caregiver though; Robear is a bear-like robot. This machine is actually the third and latest iteration of the caregiver robot developed by Riken. According to an article on Engadget, “The first model announced in 2009 was called RIBA, followed by RIBA-II in 2011, though Riken also came out with a Pillsbury Doughboy-like model back in 2006 called RI-MAN.” Robear weighs 309 pounds, making it a lot lighter than its 507-pound predecessor. It also includes features to ensure it’s gentler and more careful while carrying patients to/from their beds or wheelchairs than the older versions.
Specifically, it includes actuator units with a very low gear ratio, allowing the joints to move very quickly and precisely, and allowing backdrivability, meaning that the force encountered by the actuators as they perform their tasks can be quickly fed back into the system, allowing softer movement. It also incorporates three types of sensors, including torque sensors and Smart Rubber capacitance-type tactile sensors made entirely of rubber, which allow for gentle movements, ensuring that the robot can perform power-intensive tasks such as lifting patients without endangering them.
The goal of the project is to help individuals, especially the elderly, regain some independence. It would do so by giving said individuals the ability to move around the house without depending on another person.
For now, Robear is only a research project. Riken and its partners continue to improve it’s technology, reduce its weight, and ensure its safety.