It might look like a cross between a snowman and a badly-designed toy polar bear, but the nursing fraternity should appreciate this robot that can lift patients in and out of beds and wheelchairs on command, while at the same time saving nurses’ backs and improving patient care and safety.
RIBA (Robot for Interactive Body Assistance) is said to be the first robot that can lift up or set down a real human (up to 61kg/134lbs) from or to a bed or wheelchair. RIBA does this using a combination of its very strong human-like arms and by novel tactile guidance methods using high-accuracy tactile sensors. RIBA was developed by integrating RIKEN's control, sensor, and information processing and TRI's material and structural design technologies.
Robots like RIBA could prove themselves very worthy acquisitions when you consider the number of times patients in hospitals and care facilities are lifted and moved each day - no wonder many care-givers struggle with bad backs, injuries and exhaustion, not to mention the patients who suffer from poorly-executed moves. Then there are patients who can’t be moved often enough when nursing staff is limited.
RIBA is the second generation robot to emerge from RIKEN-TRI. The first model, named RI-MAN, had limited safety and performance functionality, but RIBA’s human-like arms equipped with high-precision tactile sensors and a body encased in a soft exterior of urethane foam, guarantees patient safety and comfort say its makers.
The nursing robot responds to operator's commands from the basic “hello", "goodbye" and “shake hands”, through to lifting up and down, and other more intricate moves. Motion is adjusted and suspended or resumed by touching on RIBA’s tactile sensors. Its base has omni-directional wheels so it can move in any direction.
RIBA has specially-created joint positions and link lengths designed for lifting up a human. It’s slim arms and joint structure have high rigidity and high output torque, while two cameras and two microphones allow it to follow an operator using visual and audio cues. When the operator is within its view, RIBA detects the position (direction and distance), and moves to the operator's front. RIBA also detects sound source direction.
The robot’s body is covered with soft materials and the elbow and waist joints are isolated, making RIKA safe for physical interactions with humans. This softness also contributes to patient comfort when they are being lifted. A teddy bear shape was deliberately used to put patients at ease and to give a friendly, non threatening, appearance.
Staff can control RIBA's motion by directly touching its tactile sensors. RIBA's makers say this is an intuitive control method because the contact position and force direction coincide with those of the desired motion. By pattern processing RIBA can detect the operator’s touch even when in the process of lifting a human.
The nursing-care assistant robot has been created by the RIKEN-TRI Collaboration Center for Human-Interactive Robot Research (RTC), which was established as a joint collaboration project by RIKEN and Tokai Rubber Industries, Ltd (TRI). They believe robots like the RIBA should be able to alleviate much of the burden surrounding manual patient moves in hospitals and aged-care facilities.
RIBA is scheduled for release in the near future, but until then RIBA can be seen in action through a series of videos here.
In a world coming to terms with an aging population, robots like RIBA are going to play an increasing part in patient care.
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