Japan: Company builds robot to help elderly staff

In country with shrinking and ageing population, hauling company builds exoskeleton to take strain off its workforce.

Nara, Japan – A Japanese hauling company which employs many elderly people has invested in an exoskeleton to take the strain off its staff.

Tatsumi Shokai Logistics – which employs more than 700 people in total across its sites – has been building the robot since 2014.

The exoskeleton helps employees to carry out their jobs, which include constantly loading, unloading, carrying and bending.

READ MORE: In Japan, new knees for the old

“The burden on my back and legs has been lessened by half,” Kenji Takemura, an employee at the company for more than 34 years, told Al Jazeera.

The 57-year-old said that he could do the same work over a long period of time, adding that he hoped to continue working for another decade.

The findings of the recent national census suggest Japan’s population will fall dramatically over the next few decades.

Workforce shortage

With an ageing population and fewer young people to replace them, some academics predict that finding a fit and capable workforce will be challenging.

“We will have a shortage of workforce in the future and robotics could help us,” Yasuhiko Saito, a Nihon University professor specialising in demography and gerontology, told Al Jazeera.

“I think the migration policy won’t help to replace the shortage of the labour force. So robotics may be the one way to accommodate that shortage.”

Companies such as Tatsumi Shokai are spearheading research.

READ MORE: Safe surgery innovations in Uganda 

Exoskeletons are not a new invention but Tatsumi Shokai may be the first company prioritising older people as principal users.

The cost of these projects is kept secret but the results are tested out publicly.

Tatsumi Shokai’s robot, which would allow someone to work beyond their retirement age, can lift a person of more than 89kg.

The current prototype is for those who walk long distances, such as those who work in the countryside or in hilly areas. It helps maintain stamina and strength as well as supporting the body’s joints.

“More people can work with the assist suits. People can continue working longer and the devices allow people who do not have enough physical strength to work again,” Keiko Fakul of Activelink said.

Source: Al Jazeera