Car manufacturer Toyota is turning its attention to the mobility market in the form of a robotic mobility aid to assist elderly and disabled people.
According to a report by Reuters, Toyota said it saw the possibility of becoming a mass producer of robots to help the elderly.
For now, the firm’s attention is focused on Japan but as an international company with distributing hubs in Europe and the UK it is more than capable of rolling out commercial mobility aids in the British market.
Toyota, the world’s second largest automaker, made its first foray into commercialising rehabilitation robots on Wednesday, launching a rental service for its walk assist system, which helps patients to learn how to walk again after suffering strokes and other conditions.
Toyota’s system follows the release by Honda Motor Co of its own walking assist ‘robotic legs’ in 2015, which was based on technology developed for its ASIMO dancing robot.
“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,” Toshiyuki Isobe, chief officer of Toyota’s Frontier Research Center, told Reuters.
Speaking to reporters, he added that mass producing robots would be a natural step for the company which evolved from a loom maker in 1905 into an automaker whose mission is to “make practical products which serve a purpose”.
“Be it robots or cars, if there’s a need for mass produced robots, we should do it with gusto,” Isobe said.
Because of Japan’s aging population demand for care services for elderly people has boomed and a shrinking working population means that fewer able-bodied adults are available to look after them. The population structure of the UK is not hugely dissimilar from Japan and is also experiencing increasing pressures as a result of an aging population.
Globally, sales of robots for elderly and handicap assistance will total about 37,500 units in 2016-2019, and are expected to increase substantially within the next 20 years, according to the International Federation of Robotics.
“The biggest challenges have been in determining the needs of the robot market, which is relatively new, and to ensure that our products are safe,” Isobe said.