Toyota goes short circuit with robots for the aged

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Robots, it would appear, are clunking their way back into fashion this year, and not just as sexual companions, but also as automated carers for the elderly – or so believes Japanese car maker, Toyota, who is ready to cash in on the whole robotic rabble.

Having started out as a manufacturer of automatic fabric looms back in 1926, Toyota could be returning to its robotic roots as it takes on the challenge of providing both help and entertainment to Japan’s ever growing population of oldies.

As the population of wrinklies grows and that of medical aid workers shrinks, Toyota - which bizarrely also runs its own hospital [blood drive, anyone?] – reckons it could be making a tonne of cash for its little clunkers and it would seem others agree.

Reuters recently reported that Japan’s Machine Industry Memorial Foundation had declared that fobbing the elderly off onto robots could actually save japan some $21 billion a year. Charming.

Wired even reports that Toyota is so serious about the project it has at least 200 people working on it full-time, helped along by partnerships with 11 universities and 10 corporate suppliers.

Toyota isn’t the first car company racing to make money from mechanical matrons either, with Honda having revved up the robot production years ago, even producing one model –Asimo - which can serve tea and conduct orchestras – although rather disappointingly, not at the same time.

Tooting its horn at Honda, Toyota’s talented bots can apparently play the trumpet and the violin, although, sadly, the official website can’t give us a sound sampling for fear of copyright infringement.

The blow hard bots have already been put to the test at Toyota’s hospital, and according to Wired, Japan has already set up an agency called the Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization to ensure they live up to safety standards. 

Taking that practice a mechanical step further, the South Korean government has even come out with an ethical code detailing rules for mutual respect between humans and their robotic helpers. No disassemble Stefanie! Number 5 is alive!

Toyota apparently plans to have its robots become a key part of the firm’s revenue stream by 2020, with the out-of-this-world notion that – by that time – the little blighters might even have found a use toiling away on the moon.

Although, hopefully, that's not where Japan intends to send all its old folk!