Vol.6 Special Interview

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Professor Akiyoshi Kabe of the Graduate School of Human Sciences, Waseda University × Maiko Ito × CLPA Global Director Naomi Nakamura

Robots Usher In New Possibilities in Preventative Medicine
Towards New Applications for CC-Link/CC-Link IE

A robot with great promise for application development, not just in the factory, but in areas as diverse as the community and the home. The advanced control functions provided by CC-Link/CC-Link IE should be very helpful in that evolution. The Global Director of the CC-Link Partner Association (CLPA), Naomi Nakamura, interviewed Akiyoshi Kabe, who is a CLPA technical advisor and professor in the Graduate School of Human Sciences at Waseda University, currently engaged in the research and development of medical care and welfare robots. She also interviewed the actress Maiko Ito, who is a graduate student from his laboratory, and is currently doing research on robots which can be usefully employed for things such as preventive medicine.

The “SS RAM-chan” squat support tool robot

NakamuraPlease explain about your specialization in Health and Welfare Industrial Science. KabeOne of the major projects of Health and Welfare Industrial Science is the development of health and welfare robots. We are aiming to make a real contribution to solving the variety of problems which are now emerging in our super-aged society, by developing robots which can provide the different kinds of support that we associate with health and health care, in the many different scenarios that people find themselves in day to day. Specifically, we are developing the kinds of robots which can prevent "locomotive syndrome", in which the risk of needing nursing care increases due to the functional decline in the joints and muscles, and so on, that comes with aging. A significant feature of health and welfare science is not just developing robots, but simultaneously promoting research based on the premise of their "social implementation", developing an overall service which includes in its scope their actual operation on-site, for example, and even the business model to be employed.

A Fusion of Preventative Medicine and Robot Technology

NakamuraMs. Ito, how did you become involved in Heath and Welfare Industrial Science? ItoSo that I could study something useful about our super-aged society, I enrolled in the “e-School” of the Waseda University School of Human Sciences. In the e-School, you take part in a junior seminar. Just as I was entering my third year and thinking about what seminar to do, my classmate told me about the most popular seminar, which was with Professor Kabe. When I went to have an interview with Professor Kabe for the seminar, we talked about the possibility of perhaps doing something new by combining robot technology with the knowledge of preventative medicine that I had acquired, and it was decided that I could join his seminar. NakamuraWhen it comes to the development of robots, I would have thought that knowledge other than preventative medicine is also required, such as mechanical systems and electronics. ItoThat’s correct. Fresh engineering expertise is required in making a robot a reality, such as programming the microcomputer needed for controlling the mechanical system. We also undertook research and development which emphasized the robot concept itself, as well as, for example, the ways in which it can be utilized. NakamuraRecently, the number of companies entering the field of health and welfare robots has been increasing. KabeTen years ago, I think you would have seen hardly any health and welfare robots at robot-related exhibitions. However, as the need for care support robots has become clearly evident in our ever-aging society, a lot of universities and businesses have started to develop health care and welfare robots.
Working for a general electronics manufacturer, I was originally involved in the development of control systems for industrial equipment and industrial networks. Both of these were principally aimed at factories, but with the expansion of robot applications, the range of application of the technology and networks has spread steadily.

The Need for Control Tailored to Humans

NakamuraCould you tell me about the robot that you developed? ItoOur first robot was the Squat Support Tool Robot “SS RAM-chan”. Legs and back must be exercised on a routine basis to avoid locomotive syndrome. The squat is an effective exercise for doing this. Except that, if the squat is not done in the correct way, conversely, you can end up injuring your knees, among other things. So “SS RAM-chan” is what provides support so that you are able to do a squat with the correct posture.
The important point about your posture when doing a squat is the position of the knees. When bending your knees, they must not end up further forward than your toes. At first glance, SS RAM-chan looks like a sheep puppet, but sensors are incorporated in it so that when you start to do a squat while facing it, a voice will tell you if the position of your knees ever comes forward of your toes. It is also equipped with a function to help you keep a constant rhythm during physical activity. This robot was exhibited at the “International Robot Exhibition” held in 2013.
NakamuraAnd what is the theme of your recent research? ItoRight now, I am working on the development of a system to actively tackle the prevention of locomotive syndrome in people over 75 years of age. SS RAM-chan was developed to allow people who would like to prevent the syndrome to perform squats with the correct posture. However, in actual fact, there are not necessarily that many people who are actively trying to tackle the challenge of preventing locomotive syndrome.
Old people especially tend to be reluctant to do new things, or be physically active in any way. We thought that a support was needed which would allow as many people as possible to be more physically active. We are currently promoting discussion on the possibility of creating some kind of apparatus to be installed near an elderly person which would enhance their motivation.
NakamuraSurely the control of an application to support a person is even more complicated than controlling a machine. I imagine the type and amount of information required to grasp an actual situation also increase significantly. KabeYes, that’s right. The controlled objects in FA (Factory Automation) are mainly machines.
Since the motion of the apparatus does not change very quickly, it is easy to achieve control with good reproducibility. However, humans are constantly variable. That is the reason why a flexible control system will be required which can change accordingly. In particular, a complex process is required to make judgments based on information from living organisms. Here, I think that AI (Artificial Intelligence) technology will be required. In other words, we must contrive a way for the information system and the control system to work closely together.

Information System and High Affinity

NakamuraCharacteristics of CC-Link/CC-Link IE are its strong record of adoption as a control system incorporated within industrial equipment, and its high affinity with information systems due to standards based on Ethernet technology. Moreover, data can be transferred at a high speed of 1Gbps. Perhaps we could make a contribution to the evolution of health care and welfare robots.
For example, when we are finally living in an age when the installation of robots in the home has become normal practice, a scheme must then be devised to carry out service and maintenance remotely. There are already examples of the operational state of equipment being monitored continuously using CC-Link IE, and “preventative maintenance” being performed to avoid failures before they actually happen. This kind of technology may be very useful in the field of health care and welfare.
KabeIn fact, one health care and nursing robot developed in a laboratory has been installed in a hospital, and its effectiveness is being evaluated right now. Integrated control of this robot has been achieved using CC-Link; the automatic failure diagnosis function provided by CC-Link and a controller was extremely useful. If the robot started to malfunction, the problem could be ascertained very quickly, and appropriate measures taken swiftly.
By constructing a sensor network within the home utilizing CC-Link/CC-Link IE, various information can be efficiently collated. This technology may possibly be put to good use in finding solutions to the challenges Ms. Ito is facing at the moment.
ItoI certainly think so. We think that, in order to realize a mechanism which can increase the motivation of elderly people to be physically active, it is first necessary to understand the patterns in their lifestyles. Once we know this, we may be able to figure out where to install the appliance and how it should operate for an elderly person. KabeThere are quite a few people in Japan who consider that FA is a technology for the factory. Overseas, it is widely recognized as a technology with potential beyond factories. As a matter of fact, there are also examples of businesses that specialize in FA which are currently developing equipment for hospitals. It appears that the CC-Link / CC-Link IE technology could possibly find a broad range of application outside the area of manufacturing plants.

Akiyoshi KabeProfessor in the Faculty of Human Sciences of Waseda University

Professor in the Faculty of Human Sciences of Waseda University. Graduate of the Faculty of Engineering of Tokyo University. After developing FA equipment and industrial networks in the research and development division of a general electronics manufacturer handling industrial devices, he took up his current post in 2003. Engaged in research on "Human Science Robots" for use in the medical care and welfare fields. He also serves as a technical advisor for the CC-Link Partner Association.

Maiko ItoBorn in Nagoya, Aichi Prefecture in 1964.

Won the first Miss Magazine Grand Prix in 1982, and debuted as a singer with “Binetsu Kana” in 1983. She remains active in television, film, and theater. She is now a board member of the NPO “Assembly for Tailor-Made Health Care”. Graduating from Waseda University in 2014, she was admitted to the graduate school of Waseda University in April of the same year. Graduate School Studying robot engineering in the Graduate School of Human Sciences, she is currently developing a robot to prevent the onset of Locomotive Syndrome.

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