Japan's Riken Brain Science Institute and rubber manufacturer Sumitomo Riko have built an experimental robot bear nurse that is able to lift patients and gently transfer them between beds and wheelchairs.

Ageing populations are an increasing concern and in Japan, hospital staff and carers in nursing homes are required to lift patients about 40 times a day, which is strenuous and can cause lower-back pain.

To aid carers, the Riken-SRK Collaboration Center for Human-Interactive Robot Research in Nagoya has developed a care support robot with the face of a cute, loveable cartoon-like bear to aid patients in sitting and standing up.

Robear has mechanical arms that are able to carry up to 80kg of weight and also has roller legs that can extend and retract from a base as necessary when bending to lift a patient or when manoeuvring through tight spaces like doorways.

The robot weighs 140kg and it is powered by software and advanced actuators (a type of motor that controls mechanisms), as well as three different types of sensors, including Smart Rubber capacitance-type tactile sensors entirely of rubber.

Robear, a new care support robot bear nurse that can lift patients up gently to transfer them between wheelchairs and beds
Robear, a new care support robot bear nurse that can lift patients up gently to transfer them between wheelchairs and bedsAFP

All of these attributes enable the robot to move both slowly and smoothly with very gentle movements that do not jolt the patient in its arms. Riken says that, so far, robots have never been used for this purpose in any hospital.

"We really hope that this robot will lead to advances in nursing care, relieving the burden on care-givers today. We intend to continue with research toward more practical robots capable of providing powerful yet gentle care to elderly people," said Toshiharu Mukai, leader of the Robot Sensor Systems Research Team at the Riken-SRK Collaboration Center for Human-Interactive Robot Research.

The researchers have been working to develop a robot to assist with patient care since 2009. The first version was Robot for Interactive Body Assistance (RIBA), which could lift a weight of up to 61kg.

The second incarnation, RIBA-II, weighs 230kg and can carry a weight of up to 80kg. Robear improves on its predecessors by being lighter and having the smallest base yet.