Japanese robotic suit could change LTC design

Americans have moved from the cane to the wheelchair to the walker and now the mobile scooter to assist them in mobility. While the cane and the walker are considered only for those with minimal assistance needs, wheelchairs and motorized scooters have developed into big business, but have become challenges for the design community and maintenance staff in long-term care.

Besides the obvious interior design issues with wheelchairs and scooters (i.e. turning radius, bruised and banged walls and doors, no where to park and charge them) there are less obvious issues such as the loss of dignity that occurs when you are always looked down upon, talked down to, and not seen. This loss is not due to cruelty but the actual positioning of the senior in a seated position. Until recently, I could not have imagined another option.

In comes HAL (Hybrid Assistive Limb) developed at Tsukuba University by engineering professor Yoshiyuki Sankai. The robot suit utilizes technology that reads your muscle impulses and delivers robotic assistance that can increase strength up to 5x. The strength can be dialed up or down according to the needs of the user. HAL is now available for rent monthly or weekly.

So what are the design implications if America could ever get past being couch potatoes and move into assistive walking? Damages to walls and doors would virtually disappear (bad news for INPRO, Acryovan, or Koroguard), ADA handrails and grab rails would be less necessary, although it would take years for the codes to catch up. Turning radius’s needed would be greatly reduced if not completely eliminated. But better than that, seniors would see eye to eye with caregivers, families, and friends.

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