This new robotic leg brace is being developed and released by the Toyota Motor Corp.
A model demonstrates Toyota Motor Corp's rehabilitation robot Welwalk WW-1000, created to aid in the rehabilitation of individuals with lower limb paralysis, as engineers bow in Tokyo April 12, 2017.
It can be fitted around the knee and lower leg which will help the individual to bend and straighten the their joints.
Toyota will begin to rent out 100 Welwalks to medical centers around Japan for a one-time initial charge of $9,000 and a $3,200 recurring monthly fee.
Isobe conceded that it took Toyota longer to develop robots than cars, as it stretched the company further beyond its comfort zone. Medical staff would control the system via a touch panel screen. The robot supports stroke and other patients relearning how to walk.
Other Japanese manufacturers are investing in medical robotics as well, including Panasonic, which previous year unveiled a robust robotic exoskeleton.
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"This helps just barely enough", said Saito, explaining that helping too much can slow progress in rehabilitation. Honda Motor Co.'s Asimo humanoid can run and dance, pour a drink and carry on simple conversations, while WelWalk is more of a system that uses robotics than a stand-alone robot.
Eiichi Saito, a medical doctor and executive vice president at Fujita Health University, which partnered with Toyota, said patients using the device can recover quicker because the sensitive robotic sensor fine-tunes the level of support better than a human therapist is able to.
The breakthrough is especially important in Japan, as the elderly, their fast-aging population, is particularly susceptible to strokes.
Toyota's WelWalk system uses robotic technology to assist people in moving and walking. Last year, Hyundai showed off a slew of personal support robotic wearables that can supplement the mobility of the wearer. A battery-powered wearable exoskeleton made by Israeli manufacturer ReWalk Robotics enables people relying on a wheelchair to stand upright and walk.
"Previously users of this technology were limited by how much they could afford: rehabilitation technology is quite expensive and many [hospitals] cannot afford it". It is also investing in artificial intelligence and developing self-driving vehicles.
Toshiyuki Isobe, Toyota's chief officer for research, said WelWalk WW-1000 reflects the company's desire to apply robotics to increase independence.