On Wednesday, Toyota launched a new robotic leg brace called the WelWalk WW-1000. The robotic exoframe is designed to help patients with partial paralysis walk again. The device is worn on the affected leg, with a large motor component at the knee joint that helps with functions such as supporting body weights and assisting with movements such as swinging the leg forward.
The WelWalk WW-1000 system will be made available to medical institutions in Japan later this year, with a rental model that charges a one-time fee of $9,000 and later $3,200 after that on a monthly basis. The WelWalk robotic leg brace could dramatically reduce recovery time for patients overcoming partial paralysis. The robotic exoframe has sensitivity levels that can be fine-tuned to a physiotherapist’s prescription.
Toyota has been working on robotics for decades now. Its R&D wing Toyota Research Institute is dedicated to creating technology that increases independence and improves the quality of life for an aging population. Last year, Hyundai showed off a slew of personal support robotic wearables that can supplement the mobility of the wearer. An increasing number of automakers are turning their attention towards overall mobility, i.e. beyond the everyday means of transportation.
In 2016, Honda unveiled ASIMO, a helper robot for the fast-aging population. The humanoid robot can perform tasks without the need for a human controlling its movements. In addition, it also created the Stride Management Assist device, which helps the elderly increase their stride as they walk, which eventually and helps them walk.
Japan’s aging population is large and continues to grow at a fast pace. Around 26 percent of its population is 65 or older compared to the global average of 8.5 percent. This calls for much-needed advancements in automated services industry to help in mobility and care for the aging population.
The field of robotic aids for rehabilitation is growing at a faster rate. Israeli manufacturer ReWalk Robotic created a battery-powered wearable exoskeleton to enable disabled people to stand upright and walk.
Toshiyuki Isobe, Toyota's chief officer for research, said WelWalk WW-1000 reflects the company's desire to apply robotics to increase independence. The company has also developed an R2-D2-like machine, called the Human Support Robot, whose mechanical arm can help bed-ridden people pick things up.
"Our vision is about trying to deliver mobility for everybody," said Isobe. "We have been developing industrial robotics for auto manufacturing, and we are trying to figure out how we can use that technology to fill social needs and help people more."