Robots help disabled children swim

WATER BABIES::A Japanese inventor has dedicated his work to giving children with disabilities a passion for the sea, helping them to maneuver and float in water

By Chiu Shao-wen and Jason Pan  /  By Chiu Shao-wen Staff reporter, with staff writer

Fri, Sep 13, 2013 - Page 5

Japanese marine biologist and educator Masamichi Hayashi was met with a sea of smiles last weekend as he demonstrated his inventions — robotic marine animals — that enable children with physical disabilities to play safely in water.

Hayashi came to Taiwan to teach students how to build machines that are able to mimic the movements and actions of marine animals.

At the Taipei City Youth Park swimming pool on Saturday, he showed children how to play and ride on the more than 20 robotic sea creatures that students had engineered and built under his guidance.

Hayashi, 52, is the president of marine education establishment KYG Lab, and is a leading scientist in this field, with more than 100 lifelike, handmade inventions under his belt, made mostly from recycled materials.

He and his student team displayed a huge array of robotic creatures at the event, including sea turtles, dolphins, sharks, stingrays, humpback whales, seacows and fish.

Kids enjoyed riding the sea turtle, which was made in Taiwan from recycled material, with its head made out of Styrofoam, eyes from table tennis balls and body stuffed with cotton.

Hayashi said his goal was to enable children with disabilities to experience the joy of playing in the ocean.

“It’s so incredible! They look like real animals,” a child at the park said.

Another child, with learning difficulties and physical disabilities, waded into the pool for the first time and was thrilled to ride a robotic dolphin.

Hayashi said he enjoyed diving in his younger days, but can no longer do so because of lung cancer.

“When I was recuperating from medical treatment, I walked along the beach to pick up garbage. I overheard a kid say: ‘It would be great if this trash could be turned into a fish,’ and this sparked the idea in my mind to make robotic fish from recycled materials,” he said.

“These days I can feel my health deteriorating gradually. However, I am thankful to the Taiwanese whom I have worked with. Like me, they like to do ‘silly things,’” Hayashi said.

“When I watch the smiles on children’s faces, it gives me the motivation to go on living and lead a vigorous, active life,” he added.

Hayashi also demonstrated an “aquatic wheelchair” that he built, which allows children with physical disabilities to float and maneuver in the water.