Sun, Jan 11, 2009 - Page 4 News List

Japanese design robot to help aging agriculture sector

AFP , TOKYO

Tokyo Agriculture and Technology University student Gohei Yamamoto, right, wears a power-assist suit while pulling a white radish from the ground at the school’s campus in Tokyo on Friday. Shigeki Toyama, left, developed the power suit “Wearable Agrirobot,” which reduces the strength a farm worker needs for chores such as harvesting and pruning.

PHOTO: AFP

Japanese researchers on Friday unveiled a robot suit designed to help reduce the heavy burden of harvesting as the nation’s farm industry faces an aging, shrinking workforce.

Researchers at Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology demonstrated a prototype wearable assistance machine equipped with eight motors and 16 sensors.

The 25kg device is designed to assist elderly farmers who need support for their leg muscles and joints when they keep a crouching position or lift their arms high.

DEMONSTRATION

In a demonstration, a person wearing the suit pulled radishes from the ground and picked oranges from high branches like a robot.

The researchers said they were looking to commercial use of the suit in two to three years at an initial price of between ¥500,000 and ¥1 million (US$5,000 and US$10,000).

“Human robotic technology is being applied to various industries but it has great potential in the agricultural industry, in which people have to bear a heavy burden,” Shigeki Toyama said.

“That’s especially obvious in Japan, where the industry is rapidly aging and its population is shrinking,” he said.

COSTLY LABOR

He said he expected robotics would increasingly be put to use in farming in Japan and smaller European countries, where there is not enough space for large-scale agriculture and manual labor is costly.

Japan has been developing robots to serve in a growing number of jobs including office receptionists and security guards.

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