ISO to adopt Japan-led safety criteria for nursing-care robots

JAPAN - The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) will compile global safety standards in September for nursing-care robots based on criteria proposed by Japan, paving the way for domestic mass production and exports, it has been learned.

The latest move is widely expected to foster a new industry based on robot technology, which the government spelled out as part of its growth strategy to rebuild the country's economy.

The establishment of ISO standards will also give a boost to the full-fledged production and export of devices manufactured by Japanese companies, which lead the field of robot technology.

The ISO is a private organization that sets international standards for industrial products. It currently has 163 member states.

The safety criteria suggested by Japan will be adopted by the ISO and used as the basis for more than 80 sections to outline safety standards for robots designed to assist the elderly and those in need of special care.

Subsequently, private certification bodies of the ISO member states will conduct tests on products in accordance with each section.

Nursing-care robots are designed to fulfill various functions to help patients live independently and therefore reduce the burden on caretakers.

From this fiscal year, the government has been subsidizing half to two-thirds of the research and development costs for companies and entities working on the following four functions for the robots:

-Providing walking assistance to the elderly and others.

-Helping patients use the toilet.

-Assisting caretakers with the lifting and holding of patients.

-Monitoring dementia patients.

ISO sections will likely be required for robots with such functions as detecting uneven floors, objects, humans and animals, so that patients can avoid bumping into them, while ensuring that equipment does not tip or fall when used by patients.

The ISO safety standards also will require the installation of a device, among other systems, to reduce noise and vibration, and to release electricity and heat.

Although the government has been hoping to promote nursing-care robots priced at about 100,000 yen for widespread use across the country, companies remain unable to embark on full-scale production or export as no international or domestic safety standards have been established.

Several companies have produced nursing-care robots on a trial basis, but they cost as much as 20 million yen per unit.

The market for nursing-care robots in Japan has been predicted to reach 400 billion yen in 2035.

Consequently, the government has stepped up research and development assistance in the field.

By realizing the mass production of such robots, it will allow Japanese companies to export their products to Europe, China and South Korea, which are facing declining birth rates and rapidly aging populations.