The Earth’s population is ageing rapidly, and people aged 65 and over are the fastest growing age group in the world. This will cause problems for many countries because they find it difficult to find resources to care for the elderly. That’s why Toyota’s robotics division is focused on developing home mechanics to keep older generations healthy and happy as they age.
This week, Toyota tested prototypes in a simulated home environment built by a California lab, including a ceiling-mounted “dragon door robot” capable of cleaning and loading dishwashers. Toyota says the robot was inspired by a visit to a Japanese home, and researchers have found that limited floor space limits the robot’s ability to help. Their solution is to imagine a future home where robots are integrated directly into the building. Of course, building a new robot-assisted home from scratch can create its own problems, but the design itself does solve some of the problems.
The lab is also testing a more traditional floor-based robotic assistant. It uses air-filled mats to gently grab objects that function in the same way as their bat-like companions. The institute’s researchers also showed how they use virtual reality to train these robots. Humans use VR controllers to perform the required actions, such as wiping the desktop, and then compiling them into robots. Some robotics companies are using similar techniques to overcome the challenge of programming physical movements into machines.
But the robots are largely prototypes, and Toyota has no immediate plans to commercialize the technology. ‘Robots are the prototypes we study, and they don’t become products any time soon, ‘ Toyota said. Toyota is just one of many companies developing home robots, but the field is still very difficult. Although many laboratories have created machines that can do housework in the lab, it has proved difficult to transfer these skills to real homes because even simple tasks are not measurable, modeled, and predicted in every way.