A number of developed countries around the world are experiencing declining birth rates, as people focus more on building careers and social life than on repopulating for future generations. While lower birth rates aren’t necessarily a bad thing — they tend to arise from increased education in a society — it can prove worrisome for countries like Japan, which experts predict will see a population decline of more than 20 million people by the year 2040.
With a skyrocketing number of centenarians and not enough people to support them, what’s a country to do? There is the option of recruiting more women into the workforce, or increasing the number of immigrants to fill in the gaps, but with so many elderly people on hand, why not keep them working by giving them the power to get the hard work done with robotic exoskeletons?
Haneda Airport in Tokyo has partnered up with Japanese robotics company Cyberdyne to give their workers the extra strength needed for the back-breaking task of lifting heavy luggage. The tool for the job? A robotic exoskeleton called HAL for Labor Support, HAL being short for hybrid assisted limb.
The company previously introduced a full-body robotic suit back in 2013, called HAL. This newer version is much smaller, and uses bioelectric signals from the wearer’s muscles to aid in movement, effectively allowing someone who weighs 110 lbs (around 50 kg) to easily lift up to 45 lbs (23 kg).
The HAL apparatus itself is super lightweight and, as Cyberdyne states on its website, since “…the devices are designed so light that female or elderly workers can wear, they will encourage the participation of those various people into a society with a low birthrate and aging population.”
When you don’t have enough workers to do the backbreaking labor, why not bring in some robotically-enhanced elderly people to do the job?
While the device is meant to help people lift and move objects beyond their normal physical means, Cyberdyne CFO Shinji Uga also stated: “The main purpose of this type of robot is to prevent back pain.”
In addition to the exoskeleton, Cyberdyne has also introduced floor robots (resembling giant Roombas) that can cart loads up to 400 lbs (181 kg) and can also clean airport terminals. Hopefully it won’t end up making any messes worse…
▼ Check them out in action