Wednesday, March 15, 2006

This is absurd

Aging Japan builds robot to look after elderly

TOKYO (AFP) - A Japanese-led research team said it had made a seeing, hearing and smelling robot that can carry human beings and is aimed at helping care for the country's growing number of elderly.

Government-backed research institute Riken said the 158-centimeter (five-foot) RI-MAN humanoid can already carry a doll weighing 12 kilograms (26 pounds) and could be capable of bearing 70 kilograms within five years.

"We're hoping that through future study it will eventually be able to care for elderly people or work in rehabilitation," said Toshiharu Mukai, one of the research team leaders.

Covered by five millimeters (0.2 inches) soft silicone, RI-MAN is equipped with sensors that show it a body's weight and position.

The 100-kilogram (220-pound) robot can also distinguish eight different kinds of smells, can tell which direction a voice is coming from and uses powers of sight to follow a human face.

"In the future, we would like to develop a capacity to detect a human's health condition through his breath," Mukai said.

Japan is bracing for a major increase in needs for elderly care due to a declining birth rate and a population that is among the world's longest living.

The population declined in 2005 for the first time since World War II as more young people put off starting families.