Futuristic Boomer? Make Room for Your Robot


written by Ellen Freudenheim, MPH

Futuristic Boomer? Make Room for Your Robot

Today’s Boomers fret that there’s not enough time to do it all—work, keep up with family and friends, exercise, travel a little and maybe pursue a hobby or two.

. But just as the Internet changed our lives in unimaginable ways in the past decade, it’s possible that robotics will do so too, in the foreseeable future.

Take a lesson from your fellow Japanese baby Boomer.

In the next few years, “service robots” in Japan are predicted to debut in the home and office. Japanese Boomers will put their robots to work doing all those time-consuming, mundane tasks (yes, including the ones the kids never wanted to do): folding laundry, making beds, making telephone delivery orders, and delivering office mail. Robotic maids that can straighten rooms should be available in 2008, according to the Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun.

Fretting over your weight or whether you’re eating healthily? The firm NEC has created a nutritionist robot that will analyze you’re a person’s health profile and make individualized menu recommendations, as well as “taste” and analyze the nutritional content of food on the table. (The robotic cook hasn’t, apparently, come on the market yet).

And while the latest line of smart cars, with GPS and sure-fire automated parking directions, may already seem smarter than many drivers, there’s more to come. A car under development by NEDO, Japan’s largest public R&D management organization, is designed to help avoid collisions by controlling distances between cars, thereby compensating for a driver who isn’t paying attention or who has trouble with night time driving.

Robotic relief is on line, too, in the personal health arena. Instead of wasting hours waiting in the doctor’s office for a regular check up, perhaps in the future we won’t think twice about wearing “healthy” underwear with tiny health sensors that can monitor our vital signs and transmit the information long distance to a health provider whose job it is to monitor the data. And for people who sustain mild injuries, Yaskawa Electric has designed a physical therapy robotic aide.

Lastly, robots just might become a valuable member of our extended family. Today, Japanese men and women who live far from their aging parents, yet want to keep an eye on them, can purchase a robot called Wakamaru. It’s three feet tall, and has been designed with a friendly face around “eyes” that are actually cameras.

And forget about your 99-year-old mom or dad feeling lonesome. Robots to the rescue! The robotic pet is safer, cleaner and more predictable than any cat or dog. The most popular therapeutic pet in Japan is a furry robotic harp seal called Paro, developed by Shibata. Paro coos when treated gently, squeals angrily if handled roughly, and recognizes its owner’s voice and gestures. Paro “pets”— like real animals in traditional pet therapy programs— have been found to reduce stress, depression, and feelings of isolation among elderly users not only in Japan, but also in Italy, Sweden and the US, according to researchers at Japan’s Tsukuba University.

Looking ahead, robotic applications promise to become only more elaborate. Big companies, including Toyota, Sega, Fijitsu, and Mitsubishi are pouring millions of dollars a year into research and development of robotic products. In August 2006, a new consortium called CIRT comprised of the University of Tokyo and seven huge electronics companies announced a ten-year plan to create housework robots and robotic cars.

So if you’re thinking about simplifying your life by moving to a smaller apartment or home, you might just do without that extra bedroom for your grown kids. But for heavens sake, just make sure there’s plenty of room for your robot.