Japan's top robot maker's device assesses health of elderly

Japan's top robot maker's device assesses health of elderly
Elderly Japanese rest on benches in Tokyo.

KITAKYUSHU, Japan - A leading robot manufacturer has developed a machine to measure the fitness levels of elderly people based on how they move their feet.

The machine was invented by Yasukawa Electric Corp., a Kitakyushu-based company that boasts the world's largest volume of shipments of industrial robots, in cooperation with the University of Tsukuba.

The company is currently testing the machine, and aims to market it from fiscal 2016 to municipal governments and others.

"Your cognitive function remains excellent!" says a message that appears on the machine's display. "Keep up the good work."

Reading this at the end of last year, a 74-year-old participant in the testing smiled and said, "This encourages me to keep doing my daily exercise."

The device used was a prototype that looks like a treadmill but is equipped with 3,600 sensors over a 60-square-centimeter portion of its floor.

After a user does five types of movements, including keeping their balance on an inclined floor and walking in place, the device rates their sense of balance and muscle strength on a five-grade scale.

Hoping to cultivate the domestic market by developing products in fields that consumers are familiar with, the company is focusing on the health issues tackled by municipalities.

In developing the device, the firm is targeting such ongoing problems as the burden on nurses of visually checking the physical abilities of the elderly at events specifically for that purpose.

Also, the elderly are often bored doing the movements they are asked to do.

"When results are given in figures, that creates a competitive mindset. We plan to add some fun to the device by introducing a game element and such," said Tetsuya Fukuda, an executive board member of the company.

Fukuda said they also intend to have the device indicate users "physical health age," as opposed to their chronological age.

Prof. Kiyoji Tanaka of University of Tsukuba, who participated in the joint research, said: "Muscle strength and sense of balance are to maintain a wide range of activity. This should help prevent lifestyle diseases and dementia."

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