23 June, 2012

Robot suits for Farmers?

Here's something interesting I read recently. I guess with my background in Occupational Therapy, I find it even more interesting and wonder about other applications than just for farming:


Manual labor is becoming more and more difficult for Japan's aging farmers. This prompted Prof. Shigeki Toyama from the Universityof Tokyo to devise a high-tech solution. He developed a robot suit which he named Power Assist.

In January, 2010, Prof. Shigeki Toyama had the suits field-tested by grape farmers in Kofu during their harvest time. The farmers praised the equipment, saying they felt less tired. They look forward to wearing the suits which will be sold commercially from 2012.

People aged 65 and older are a key pillar of the agricultural work force, accounting for about 60% of the agricultural population inJapan. The development of the robot suit should come as welcome news to such elderly farmers since it is difficult for them to work for hours on end in a kneeling position or to lift heavy bundles of crops. Many suffer chronic pain in their lower backs, knees and elbows.

The robot suit has straps which fasten to the body, making it easy to wear. Four ultrasonic wave motors, which generate electric power from ultrasonic vibrations, are situated at the knees and on both sides of the lower back. Users can set the arms of the suit to a number of positions. Work such as harvesting grapes, which requires farmers to keep their arms raised, becomes less difficult.

When Power Assist users work in a kneeling or crouching position, they feel as if they are sitting in a chair as the motors support their bodies. The professor says that pulling a Daikon (a Japanese radish with an average weight of 3 lbs/1.3 kg) out of the ground usually requires muscle power equivalent to that needed to lift a 30-kilogram (66 lb) object, but using the robot suit reduces the figure to less than half.

The robot suit's movements can be controlled by various methods including commands spoken into a microphone.

“Through the robot suits I want to promote what agriculture might be for the next generation,” Toyama said.
Source: Yomiuri News 2010-08-23


Ormo said...

Some pictures here:

Wendy said...

Thanks Ormo.