Japan is having to contend with an ageing population after the baby boom of the second world war. This particular group has a life expectancy of 85 years. According to statistics, the number of people aged 65 and over nearly quadrupled to 33 million in 2014, accounting for 26% of the population. In contrast, children aged 14 years and below decreased from 24.3% of the population in 1975, to just 12.8% in 2014. These conditions have meant that Japan has had to come up with innovative solutions to support their population.
Enter robotics. Japan takes robotics very seriously and currently employs over a quarter of a million industrial robot workers. However, the estimated number is believed to reach 1 million over the next 15 years. The industry itself is expected to be worth around $70 billion by 2025.
Catering for an elderly population
It is estimated that Japan will need 2.5 million skilled care workers by 2025, but will experience a shortfall of 380,000. In it’s efforts to fill the population and vocations gap, the Waseda university has created the WL-16RIII Walkbot, a bipedal robot and Toyota has created the I-real, both of which are thought to allow elderly, paralysed and immobile individuals to get around.
We spoke to Yukio Honda, Professor of Osaka Institute of technology, on robotics and it’s trends in Japan, here is what he had to say:
“In Japan, we have a history of Manga and Anime which has played an important part in the development of Robots. Engineers are now in the process of developing humanoid robots as well as dog and seal type robots.
As you know, Japan is facing an ageing problem. So, the Japanese government is moving ahead with plans to help solve the problem with the development of robots and AI technologies. We are conducting field tests at homes for the elderly in Japan. This is a big project at the moment.
At some point, AI technologies will overcome human-beings’ abilities. But the mobility issue concerning humans and animals will take a long time to replicate. I agree with Moravec’s paradox, which is the discovery by artificial intelligence and robotics researchers that contrary to traditional assumptions, high-level reasoning requires very little computation, but low-level sensorimotor skills require enormous computational resources. The principle was articulated by Hans Moravec, Rodney Brooks, Marvin Minsky and others in the 1980s. However, by using living creatures, we have been able to overcome The Moravec’s paradox nowadays.
In the end we must take into consideration the ethics and moral issues involved while trying to improve happiness in our lives.”
Robotics News, November 21