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Published: Wednesday, 11/9/2011

Toyota gives health-care products a test drive

ASSOCIATED PRESS
Eiichi Saitoh, a professor in rehabilitation medicine, steps down with an "independent walk assist" device as Toyota Motor Corp. displays experimental health care robots at a Toyota showroom in Tokyo Tuesday. Eiichi Saitoh, a professor in rehabilitation medicine, steps down with an "independent walk assist" device as Toyota Motor Corp. displays experimental health care robots at a Toyota showroom in Tokyo Tuesday.
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TOKYO — Toyota Motor Corp. has unveiled its ambitions for high-tech health care, displaying experimental robots that the auto giant says can lift disabled patients from hospital beds or help them walk.

The company aims to commercialize products such as its “independent walk assist” device sometime after 2013 — seeking to position itself in an industry with great potential in Japan, one of the world’s most rapidly aging nations.

Eiichi Saitoh, a professor in rehabilitation medicine, demonstrated the “walk assist” device, last week, strapping the computerized metallic brace onto his right leg, which was paralyzed by polio.

He showed reporters at a Toyota facility in Tokyo how the brace could bend at the knee as needed, allowing him to walk more naturally and rise from a chair with greater ease than with the walker he now uses. Wearing a backpack-like battery, Mr. Saitoh walked up and down a flight of stairs, smiling with delight.

He said he had tried Toyota’s machines with patients and was confident they helped people recover more quickly from strokes and other ailments that curtailed movement.

Toyota also demonstrated a machine with padded arms that can help health-care workers lift disabled patients from their beds and carry them around. Another mobility aid worked like a skateboard to help people relearn balance.

Toyota officials said technology for autos such as sensors, motors, and computer software is being used in such gadgets to help people get around, and what they learn about mobility for people will likely be of use in future cars.

Pricing and overseas sales plans of all the machines were still undecided, according to Toyota. General Manager Akifumi Tamaoki said more tests were needed on more people to ensure safety and reliability, and gain user feedback, but the commercial products in the works were going to be smaller and lighter than the prototype versions.



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