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Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Living With Robots in Japan

Japan, the land of Mobile Suit Gundam, has long been a leader in the field of robotics. It is therefore hardly surprising that the Japanese are bringing robotics to bear on the biggest problem facing Japan: how to care for its skyrocketing numbers of elderly citizens.

Japan doesn't do immigration, so there is no pool of cheap foreign careworkers to draw on, and nursing and care work in Japan is poorly paid and stressful - meaning few of the ever dwindling number of young Japanese are attracted to it.

Enter the robots: not just slaves that bring the bedridden bottles of green tea, but also a mechanical seal with luscious long eyelashes and a soft silky pelt called Paro that responds pretty realistically to touch and voice. Paro is on the cutting edge of “soft robotics” that aims to serve the mind rather than the body, encouraging the lonely and those suffering dementia to interact with something that elicits emotions.

The Financial Times explores this state of robotics among Japan's elderly in a short, slick documentary video called "The soft side of robots: elderly care." Hear a centenarian rave about her Paro, a nonagenarian speak of the dangers of robots, and hear from Paro's inventor himself about how his wacky idea was conceived and how it has succeeded. Check it out here on YouTube:

Read more about aging Japan

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