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Discrete and Process Automation

Japan Looking to Automate 80 Percent of Elder Care By 2020: Report

07 February 2018

Japan is looking to use caregiver robots to address the ever-growing shortage of workers in nursing homes and hospitals. According to a February 5 report in The Guardian, the government predicts that 80 percent of the elderly in Japan will receive care from robots by 2020.

Japan’s rapidly aging society has caused a predicted shortfall of 370,000 caregivers by 2025, according to the report. The government is pushing acceptance of social robot technology that could help overcome the shortfall.

Social, humanoid robots like SoftBank's Pepper (shown) could find use in Japanese nursing homes as care robots. The country aims to automate 80 percent of its elder care by 2020.Social, humanoid robots like SoftBank's Pepper (shown) could find use in Japanese nursing homes as care robots. The country aims to automate 80 percent of its elder care by 2020.An October 2017 Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) report addresses the country’s top priorities for introducing care robots. These include relatively simple tasks like aiding patients in walking and carrying loads, lifting patients out of bed, disposing of patient waste from toilets, bathing and monitoring remote sensors. Some initiatives are more complex, including wearable robotics to provide human caregivers with power assistance, as well as using robotics to predict the exact timing of patients’ bathroom needs and responding accordingly.

Japan’s culture provides a ripe environment for widespread acceptance of care robots. Since the dawn of automation, its society has generally accepted and trusted robots. This trust has also manifested in other areas of Japanese technology, such as the country’s acceptance and dependence on vending machines rather than service workers.

(For more about Japanese culture’s effects on its technology, read Does Society Influence Tech, Or Vice Versa? on Engineering360.)

Japan is often described as having a “super-aging” society due to a postwar baby boom followed by an extended period of low birthrates. A report from the International Longevity Center Japan estimates that one third of the country’s population will be over the age of 65 in 2050. This rapid aging means Japan faces the possibility of staggering amounts of people requiring elder care as well as a sharp decline in working-age people. With more social acceptance, widespread use of care robots could address both of these issues.

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