There's a lot of talk about Japan's rapidly aging society, and how it is expected to literally place a heavy burden on the island nation's caregivers. Among the many projected problems is a smaller pool of health care workers amidst a growing tide of elderly who require around-the-clock care. With that kind of workload, nurses are more likely to injure themselves or their patients when lifting them into and out of bed. Various solutions are in the works, such as a giant lifting robot that looks like a teddy bear, but few are as practical as Panasonic's Resyone robotic bed. It recently became the first to be certified ISO13482 compliant, the new global safety standard for service robots.
Panasonic's first stab at the problem was a machine called the Transfer Assist Robot, which was designed to lift patients into and out of bed using a pair of arms that needed to be positioned under the patient's back and legs. A similar device, called the Robohelper, does much the same thing but with a sling.
Although these devices do all the heavy lifting (and thus prevent related injuries), the transfer process is still relatively slow and is not entirely idiot-proof. Panasonic's engineers went back to the drawing board in an effort to cut out the middleman, and the result was a bed that could transform directly into a wheelchair.
The bed wheelchair combo has changed a bit from when it was last seen. Where the original was bulkier and included an overhanging arch equipped with an adjustable television, the Resyone is more compact and ditches the TV.
The mattress is split in half, with one side remaining firmly in place when the other half is separated to form the body of the chair. A patient simply needs to move over a few inches to one side, and with a few adjustments they'll be sitting upright in an electric wheelchair. A single caregiver assists during the transformation process, significantly reducing the burden on staff.
Panasonic clarified its vision for robotic health care solutions in 2009, stressing the importance of safety standards. Now that the International Organization for Standardization has independently verified the safety of the Resyone, Panasonic plans to aggressively market the device.
Besides the Resyone, Panasonic is developing and testing a drug dispensing robot that reduces errors, thus improving patient safety, and robotic delivery carts for transporting food, clothing, and medicine. Interestingly, slides shown from the 2009 seminar included illustrations of humanoid gardeners, exoskeleton man-amplifiers, and 4-legged vehicles, but it's unlikely we'll be seeing any of those in the near future.