Toyota Motor Corp is extending its research and development interests into mobility-assisting robots.
The world’s number two carmaker recently showed off its new equipment for reporters at its Tokyo headquarters, saying that the Welwalk WW-1000 motorized rehabilitation system will be rented to medical facilities in Japan later in the year. A robotic leg brace designed to help partially paralyzed people regain the ability to walk, the new gadget will be used by those who had suffered from a stroke or other ailments that involved paralysis on one side of the body.
The new robotic system is an example of what industry observers see as a natural extension by auto companies beyond car manufacturing, something that many predict will become more of a necessity as the worldwide demand for cars declines. “Toyota started as a maker of looms, and only got in to cars later,” says Toshiyuki Isobe, chief officer of Toyota’s Frontier Research Center, to forbes.com. “Our mission always was to make practical things that serve a purpose. If there is a need for mass produced robots, we’ll make them.”
Last year, Honda introduced the world to the latest iteration of ASIMO, the helper robot. In development for the past 30 years, ASIMO is an autonomous robot, meaning that it performs without the need for a human controlling its movements, and was billed as the first humanoid robot capable of human-like running (along with being a pretty fine dancer, too). The technology for ASIMO made its way into Honda’s version of walking assist robotic legs in 2015.
“If there’s a way that we can enable more elderly people to stay mobile after they can no longer drive, we have to look beyond just cars and evolve into a maker of robots,” said Isobe to Reuters. “Be it robots or cars, if there’s a need for mass produced robots, we should do it with gusto.”
Japan’s elderly population is large and continues to grow — 26.7 per cent of its population is 65 or older compared to a global average of 8.5 per cent — thus, automated services to aid in mobility and care for the elderly will become more sought after in upcoming years.
The synergy between high tech and auto manufacturing is also taking off into untold heights, as both industries gear up to meet the new demand for autonomous vehicles. Ford Motor Co. and General Motors are reportedly leading the pack in terms of technology R&D, with Google, Uber and Tesla all heavily invested in driverless technologies, as well. Computer chip-maker, Intel corporation, just announced a $15.3 billion deal to take over Mobileye, an Israeli company specializing in sensors and cameras for driverless cars.
In December of last year, Blackberry opened a new autonomous vehicle research centre in Kanata, Ontario. The QNX Automotive Vehicle Innovation Centre is seen as the company’s attempt to find its own niche within the burgeoning industry by supplying the software infrastructure needed to run high-performance sensors for autonomous vehicles.