Harvesting the bounty of the earth is harder than it looks, especially you're over 65 years old -- as two-thirds of Japan's farmers are. For those whose joints ache more with every radish pulled out of the ground, Shigeki Toyama, a professor at Tokyo Agriculture and Technology (TAT) University, has developed a motorized exoskeleton designed to boost the wearer's strength by 62 percent.
The robotic suit uses movement-detecting sensors, voice recognition, and eight electric motors to straighten the farmers' postures and ease the pressure on their joints. Rods automatically straighten the wearer's legs when they are under too much strain, and muscular activity caused by bending the knees and crouching is reduced by half.
After fifteen years in development, the suit is slated to go into production by the end of this year. The preliminary models come in two sizes: a 72-pound frame, which aids heavy lifting, and a 50-pound version for those performing lighter tasks.
Sadly, those of us living in the Western Hemisphere need not envision robo-farmers gathering in nearby fields, as Toyama does not intend to export his invention to our shores.
"I doubt that the suit would sell in Europe and in America, where foreign migrants workers often perform farm-related tasks," he said.
Although the suits have yet to go commercial, Toyama already has big dreams about an upgraded version of the original. By the end of the year, he plans to add augmented reality goggles that tell farmers about the ripeness of grapes, their heart rate, and their calorie consumption.
And who will pay for this expensive piece of equipment? The aging farmer who makes a meager living off his farm?
Eh, eventually all farming will be automated by machine, lol :P
This could be a great competitor to all those electric wheelchairs for seniors. The "aged farmer" market in the US may not be all that big, but if this suit let old people get back out on the golf course the manufacturer could make a fortune.
how about a full suite that firefighters could use?
Japan, where there's a robotic device to fill EVERY niche!
This looks like a quick-fix for their problem though. It shows that Japan is become over-industrialized, there will be future problems.
"Wow, I new the Japanese aged well but, that guy looks great!" -- KH
The production model will be snapping aged bones in no time! The Japanese entertainment-driven obsession with robots continues to amaze me. My hearty Japanese mother-in-law takes to the fields with vigor, and will for years to come. She would kick this thing into a ditch.
Imagine What if that thing gets stuck on Crazy speed when in jerk'ing mode?
Just like the astronaut who's muscles and bones atrophy in space over time, relying on mechanical muscle here on earth would be the same catch 22! We need the exercise just to be able to maintain our strength. I can see augmenting a persons strength where they already lost it though. Just putting the body through the motions helps, just like therapy. Being in the 60+ category myself, overweight, and somewhat handicapped, I do envy all the attention the Japanese give to their elderly though. They seem to continually come up with helpful ideas for that age group :>)