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Robotic Bubble Baths for Japan's Elderly 149

LukePieStalker writes "New York Times (open kimono before entering) is carrying an article on various robots that are being used in assisted living situations. In addition to mentioning the Wakamaru, the story has illustrations of a human washing machine and a description of robotic pants that help those with mobility problems. Apparently, the devices are considered the better choice in a country that is not inclined to grant working visas to foreigners. As Japan's population shrinks, will the robot population make up the difference?"
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Robotic Bubble Baths for Japan's Elderly

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  • by erik umenhofer ( 782 ) on Saturday March 06, 2004 @06:35AM (#8483879) Homepage
    No not only do we send our folks to the home, but now they won't ever see a human again! Hope you like robots! Take that mom and dad!
    • As my father always has told me.. "I am only nice to you because you are going to choose my nursing home" ... I'm thinking.. somewhere in south florida.. a nice acre of premium swamp..er.... waterfront property.... ;)
    • by nacturation ( 646836 ) <nacturation @ g m ail.com> on Saturday March 06, 2004 @07:18AM (#8484007) Journal
      Your parents don't have a dream of looking like Captain Pike [nytimes.com]? Human washing machine, my ass! Where's the blinky light?
    • by Suchetha ( 609968 ) <`moc.liamg' `ta' `ahtehcus'> on Saturday March 06, 2004 @07:51AM (#8484088) Homepage Journal
      in Sri Lanka, and something like this would be very helpful for us. would save the problems you get with having to help people bathe themselves. all you have to do is lead them to the unit and help them in.. the machine does the rest.

      this would save in time and labour as well as being more comfortable for the person being washed than having a human do it for them. it IS a pride thing, but people prefer to be helped into something like this than have the "stigma" of being so helpless that they need some one to wash them.
    • Wrong culture (Score:1, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Funny, sure... but only funny about the U.S.

      Japan's very different. Traditionally, women were slaves to their families, in a sense. When parents became too infirm, that was it for their daughters.... years of subservient home-care lay ahead, with no hope of reprieve until death.

      So you can view this as "packing the parents off to the home" or as "the long term impact of freedom for women."

      Maybe eventually Japan will be able to move back towards cring for the elderly at hhome in a more reasonable, non-o

  • Revolt! (Score:5, Funny)

    by Bishop, Martin ( 695163 ) on Saturday March 06, 2004 @06:37AM (#8483881)
    This is bad! The elderly hold all of our history, if they give that information to the robots, we will all be doomed!

  • hmm (Score:5, Funny)

    by tsunamifirestorm ( 729508 ) on Saturday March 06, 2004 @06:37AM (#8483882) Homepage
    As Japan's population shrinks
    Is this a literal reference towards the elderly? ;)
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Soylent Green. Its a wonderful idea. You take your dead and make little biscuits so that the young can benefit from the dead, instead of them being a parasitic load on the youth.

    -Coward for an obvious reason
  • by Ganennon ( 758776 ) on Saturday March 06, 2004 @06:42AM (#8483898)
    We need those robots here too, so we don't have to see anymore headlines about old people being beaten by their caretakers or left to lie in their own excrements for weeks.
  • Ano... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by andih8u ( 639841 ) on Saturday March 06, 2004 @06:43AM (#8483901)
    Japan is notoriously not handicapped accessibility friendly; seems the robotic mobility assistance would be a necessity.
  • by wrmrxxx ( 696969 ) on Saturday March 06, 2004 @06:43AM (#8483903)
    Robotic pants! What are they thinking? When will these scientists learn from history? [aardman.com]
  • Work visas? (Score:4, Informative)

    by sakusha ( 441986 ) on Saturday March 06, 2004 @06:47AM (#8483910)
    Huh? What's this crap about Japan not issuing work visas? Do I sense some bitter frustration by some otaku who couldn't get a job?
    I was offered a job and a work visa in '96 and turned it down, a friend of mine has been over there since '98 on a work visa.
    • ii na- (Score:2, Insightful)

      ii na-, The companies that I applied for didn't even have the courtesy to respond with a negative, they just ignored me, I called one places HR dept. to ask about what they wanted, and they just gave me the usual... I also love to see how the newspapers say things like ".....the violent crime problem which is caused by foreiners....." (on the bight side... I had to beat the girls off with a 2x4 ;-) )
      • Re:ii na- (Score:1, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward

        on the bight side... I had to beat the girls off with a 2x4 ;-)


      • err, I wish one could later edit slashdot posts, anyway, I meant to have typed, "....on the bright side...." (Just a rittre Engrish flom a native Engrish speaker. ;-) )
      • I also love to see how the newspapers say things like ".....the violent crime problem which is caused by foreiners....." ...
        I had to beat the girls off with a 2x4
        Last time i checked, beating girls with a 2x4 was a violent crime. Gaijin da :)
    • Re:Work visas? (Score:2, Informative)

      by gullevek ( 174152 )
      getting a working visa IS hard. I had to wait 4 months to get one. They hate foreigners. 90% of the people working in the immigration office don't speak a single word of english. Funny for those foreigners who have to go there for applying a re-entry permission (yes even if you have a 1 year working visa and you leave without a re-entry permission, you actually have to re-entry the whole circle of getting a brand new working visa (a friend of mine working as a bar tender happend this thing). Furthermore, 3
      • Re:Work visas? (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Gramie2 ( 411713 )
        Gee, do 90% of the immigration office staff in your country speak Japanese? Fact is, the majority of foreign workers (legal or illegal) aren't English speakers!

        Getting a re-entry permit is a pain. I know, I had to get a dozen or so when I was there. I also had to leave the country to change my visa (I came over on a working-holiday visa -- takes 2 weeks -- then switched to a work visa, then got a spouse visa when I married a Japanese), but she will have to do the same thing when she comes to Canada this su
      • > getting a working visa IS hard. I had to wait 4 months to get one

        4 months? You're dealing with a country's immigration here -- that's LIGHTNING fast. Shit, I had to wait nearly that long to get the Colorado DMV to give me a title (after a title bond) for my car when I forgot to get the transfer notarized.
    • Re:Work visas? (Score:2, Insightful)

      by mizukami ( 141102 )
      I, too, have had no problem getting work visas in Japan over the 15 years that I've been coming and going. On the other hand, I was teaching English or working at game companies or starting up my own companies, and I'm from the US, so visas magically appear on demand.

      But do you really think that the same thing would happen for a S.E. Asian or African or Middle Eastern applicant who wanted to support themselves in Japan as an aide to the elderly, or as a housekeeper, or as anything else that could be perfor
  • Perfect! (Score:2, Funny)

    by ztwilight ( 549428 )
    Now when my children get dirty, just stick them in the human washing machine! They especially like the spin cycle, but if they throw up, you have to start the whole thing over.
    • "Futuristic images of elderly Japanese going through rinse and dry cycles in rows of washing machines may evoke chills."

      But visions of them in the spin cycle evoke laughter!

  • by Anonymous Coward
    ...they've gone wrong.
  • If you mean cyborgs when you said 'robot population', chances of that happening are highly likely, but not for another few years.

    That being said, I wanna be a cyborg :o
  • Good Idea... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by SisyphusShrugged ( 728028 ) <me AT igerard DOT com> on Saturday March 06, 2004 @06:50AM (#8483929) Homepage
    The future should, hopefully, be fillled with robotic slaves to carry out our every whim :)

    But seriously, the next logical progression in a technologically advancing society is to replace menial labour with automated systems, we have already done it with the factory production system, and the next step is the services industry.

    As long as we dont give them unnecessary AI and for some reason equip robots designed to clean houses with tactical thermonuclear devices, we wont have to worry about any robotic revolutions.
    • ...and the next step is the services industry. As long as we dont give them unnecessary AI...

      Why would they bother to do that? The humans doing that work never showed any signs of it either...


    • Persocoms anyone?
    • As long as we dont give them unnecessary AI and for some reason equip robots designed to clean houses with tactical thermonuclear devices, we wont have to worry about any robotic revolutions.

      You haven't seen my apartment. Those tactical thermonuclear devices may be necessary.
  • Yes, robotic trousers [aardman.com] can be quite beneficial for doing housework.

    Doug Moen

  • human touch (Score:2, Funny)

    by mm0mm ( 687212 )
    I think it's a matter of time that these "assisting" robots become more human-like looking. Impression and confort is very different when you are touching plastic and real skin. IMHO, Japanese engineers should learn American engineering [realdoll.com] in designing "assisting" robots like these. It's warm inside, babe.
  • by screwballicus ( 313964 ) on Saturday March 06, 2004 @06:57AM (#8483950)
    ...robotic pants that help those with mobility problems

    And on this side of the Pacific, elderly citizens already delighted by their mail application's ability to inform them "you've got mail" upon receipt thereof will be pleased to hear that their talking robotic geriatric care undergarments will now inform them of the arrival of such as is deposited within their own "inbox."
  • Loneliness (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dtio ( 134278 ) on Saturday March 06, 2004 @07:00AM (#8483955)
    Loneliness is the 1st problem for the senior citizens here in Europe. We don't need robots to assist them we need human beings to keep them company. I thinkt hat being surrounded by machines is even more depressing than being all alone, I'd feel totally worthless if I was given to a robot to take care of me.

    We need to humanize the problem of the increasing elder population and stop talking about 'technical' solutions.

    Loneliness can kill [scienceblog.com].

    • Re:Loneliness (Score:5, Insightful)

      by FePe ( 720693 ) on Saturday March 06, 2004 @07:12AM (#8483990)
      We don't need robots to assist them we need human beings to keep them company.

      I agree on that, but I also know of several workers at nursing homes saying that the elderly is annoyed with them. They don't want them to bath them and take care of them, and if the elderly likes to be taken care of by robots or machines or whatever, then maybe it's an okay solution. Elderly not at nursing homes on the other hand want human contacts and not machines to take care of them.

      And I think too it has gone to far with all these technical solutions. We are humans afterall.

      • And I think too it has gone to far with all these technical solutions. We are humans afterall.

        I see you opinion becoming more prevalent in the next 5-15 years. Stop and think for a minute hardware specs 15 years ago and the ablity of any computing system then compared to now. A TI-89 has more computing power than the computers we sent a man to the moon (yes, I realize that is more than 15 years, but the point stands). I think we will see some people trying to avoid using excessive technology because th

        • The problem is human irrationality. People will oppose genetic treatment as long as they don't need one. They will oppose stem cells until they need a new organ grown. They will bitch about dehumanising humans and what not, until they need a robot for some obsure reason. The problem is not that someone decides he doesn't want a new computer/robot/gadget/etc. and quitly goes to live in the forest. The problem is that people try to actively prevent others from living the way they want.

          But in any case, these
    • Re:Loneliness (Score:5, Insightful)

      by vidarh ( 309115 ) <vidar@hokstad.com> on Saturday March 06, 2004 @07:24AM (#8484031) Homepage Journal
      If it's being used to get rid of people to care for elderly people, then perhaps it would be bad. But if it is used to reduce the time elderly people have to rely on what for many is relatively humiliating assistance and instead give the people caring for them time to spend time with them it would be an improvement.

      Technical solutions ARE relevant. I doubt needing to get help from someone to wash myself would be my preferred form of social contact if I was old.

      But it is a tool - not a solution in itself

    • If the real human beings don't have to help elderly people to the bathroom, perhaps they will have more time for socializing instead.
    • Re:Loneliness (Score:5, Interesting)

      by nathanh ( 1214 ) on Saturday March 06, 2004 @07:47AM (#8484081) Homepage
      Loneliness is the 1st problem for the senior citizens here in Europe. We don't need robots to assist them we need human beings to keep them company. I thinkt hat being surrounded by machines is even more depressing than being all alone, I'd feel totally worthless if I was given to a robot to take care of me.

      These aren't robots to keep them company. They're robots to keep them clean and robots to help them with everyday tasks. Get a grip on the situation and get off your soapbox.

      I suppose in your world we shouldn't allow old people to drive cars because then they'd be lonely. Instead, we should have 6 fit young men carrying each old person around on a litter.

      Instead of impersonal cooking machines, like microwaves, we can just hire teams of people to breathe heavily on the food until it's cooked. Heavens forbid that old people use a "technical solution" to cook their food.

      I wonder what you might say if I explained to you the concept of a phone; a "technical solution" that allows for *greater* human interaction. Probably your head would explode as you tried to reconcile the paradox.

      Stop being such a drongo. Robots to keep the elderly clean is a great thing. It means they'll receive better care, at an affordable price, and they can clean themselves when they want to rather than when the overworked nurse is available. A nurse, by the way, who could actually improve the quality of their patients lives if they weren't wasting their valuable time giving sponge baths.

    • I thinkt hat being surrounded by machines is even more depressing than being all alone

      And you call yourself a geek?!
      • And you call yourself a geek?!

        I am surrounded by idiot technicians as assistant manager all day long. I would take robot bath from mechanical instead of my girl friend, if only no more lab co-workers who act foolish and don't work hard.

    • Oh, Europe, isn't that the place where everybody decided it was uncouth to make babies?

      You can't pay strangers to actually care about you. If you don't have family, you are likely to be lonely. If you do have family, they won't stop visiting just because you can bathe yourself (with robotic assistance).

    • The acceptance of robots to do personal care probably would have to do with cultural norms amongst everything else. Japan is a society very accepting of high tech gadgets and gizmos, so in turn it's a novelty. While Europe is fairly accepting of hi-tech toys, most Europeans place a very high regard on humanity, hence a lower acceptance of robots for just this sort of thing.
    • The elderly Europeans wouldn't feel so alone if they didn't spend their entire youth killing each other.

      The Europeans in their eighties committed themselves in their twenties to the mass murder of millions of other Europeans of their generation, simply because of slight differences in nationality or religion.

      Now they're lonely. Speaking on behalf of the 70,000,000 people killed so enthuastically by these people in the European World Wars One and Two :

      Fuck 'em!!
    • Frankly, I think nursing homes are awful due to the depressing sense of alienation they tend to create, but if they're inevitable then they should be placed next to kindergarten schools and daycare centers. That way, the elderly can easily spend time with the children, and the children can learn to appreciate & respect the elderly.
  • Working visas (Score:5, Interesting)

    by BillsPetMonkey ( 654200 ) on Saturday March 06, 2004 @07:03AM (#8483962)
    the devices are considered the better choice in a country that is not inclined to grant working visas to foreigners

    That's misguided and inaccurate. If you meet the criteria of having a 3 or 4 year degree, and a company values you enough to sponsor you, you can get a working visa.

    Always remember, work visa arrangements between countries are reciprocal. If you find it hard to get a visa for Japan, chances are Japanese people find it much harder to get a visa for your country.

    Oh, and if you want a job wiping up after old people, I'm sure the Ministry of Immingration will make an exception for you.
    • Re:Working visas (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      While I agree in general with your statemnet. I would have to say that Japan's Immigration policy and general attitude to foreigners is discrimintory at best and racist at worst.

      It is interesting to note a few things about it. If anyone has ever studied in Japan, particualrly at University level you will notice that many foreign students are from other Asian countries. In the past the majority of people were from Western countries. This is a direct result of Japan trying to improve its status in Asia

    • Re:Working visas (Score:1, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      ``If you meet the criteria of having a 3 or 4 year degree, and a company values you enough to sponsor you, you can get a working visa.''

      Don't know much about the business world, but in education, foreigners are generally limited to short term contracts - like a one year contract that can only be renewed two or three times. No raises, no promotions, and every few years you get to go looking for another job. The government (the Ministry of Education, Sports, and Science, as I think /Mombukagakusho/ is known
  • Why am I thinking of Elijah Bailey and the Robot trilogy (especially Naked Sun) right now?

    • Probably because they are a classic series of stories that deserve consideration any time anyone mentions robots...?

      But if the Japanese have all the robots, that means they'll go all weird and we'll inherit the galaxy and build an empire that'll last for 10,000 years, right?
      • One would hope so.

        And, actually, although I agree they get mentioned every time someone mentions robots, I think they're especially appropriate when replacing servents.

        (Forgive any bad spelling; I haven't slept yet. :)

  • by Anonymous Coward

    First thing I thought of when I saw the story headline. I'm surprised nobody else cited this preniscient work....
    • If I had been here sooner I would have mentioned it. It even looks kind of similar. Probably where the inventers got the idea. Oh well. I guess when the robots finally do go on a rampage, they'll be doing it in Japan *sigh*. They're so far ahead of us in gadgetry.
  • by leandrod ( 17766 ) <l@du[ ]s.org ['tra' in gap]> on Saturday March 06, 2004 @08:23AM (#8484144) Homepage Journal

    This is so sad. They fail to have children, and then refuse to accept foreigners who need the jobs for a living. Then they want to make for children and robots? So recently entered modernity, and already decadent... the rest of the First World is decadent too, but at least has had some half a millenium of modernity.

    I think it was a rabbi who said that a country without children is orphan. And I'd add that a rich country who refuse poor needy workers is without heart.

    • by gl4ss ( 559668 ) on Saturday March 06, 2004 @09:39AM (#8484315) Homepage Journal
      ..It's not like that.. not even nearly.

      I'm suspecting the situation there is similar as here in Finland, that the baby boom generation that was born after ww2 is getting old enough to retire, which means that a lot of jobs is going to be freed and the number of elderly people is going to increase quite fast(coupled with increased life expectancy).

      It's not that there isn't any children. It's that the population isn't expanding rapidly as it was after ww2. basically what it means that because of the baby boom 50 years ago there's going to be a boom of people retiring in the coming years.

      besides, a personal helper is very expensive if the problem is that a person needs just some mobility enchantment(basically the realistic alternative for normal folk being sent to a retirement home and lie drugged out on a bed there till you die - does that sound very good?).
      and old people feel better if they can get on by themselfs, in their own homes(granted that they still get to meet other people and generally have some activity in their lives.).

      not that they're very protective either, I'd guess you'd need to know the language pretty well to be able to carry out house helper tasks(and be subject to local minimum wage & etc laws. unlike in some certain countries into which foreign manual labour workforce can be brought in very cheaply and then dumped back to where they came from..). getting work visas into japan is far from impossible, but hey, it's slashdot! dramatised shit for nerds!
      • Actually, you're both right. Japan has one of the lowest birth rates in the world (they were, I believe, the very first country to fall below the replacement rate of 2.2 children/woman, and are now somewhere in the neighborhood of 1.5 children/woman). Moreover, they do discourage immigration, so they don't have that propping up population growth as in Europe or America. They also have an aging baby boomer population.
      • >

        It's not that there isn't any children. It's that the population isn't expanding rapidly as it was after ww2.

        Check your numbers. For the population to be at least stable, there must be 2.2 children per woman, in order to make for early deaths, infertility and so on. The OECD (rich Europe) countries are typically now between 1.2 and 1.7 children per woman.


        a personal helper is very expensive

        That is the point. There are millions of poor people that would be happy enough to be personal serv

  • Have we learnt nothing from Wallace and Gromit's [aardman.com] The Wrong Trousers [aardman.com]?
  • meta morpheus (Score:2, Interesting)

    by kyw ( 752653 )
    I wonder how those trousers work exactly, someone would still be needed to help the elderly use the "trousers" and explain the functions of the machine.

    Now what if the machine doesn't stop? That could be cause of anxiety for people not used to technology.

    I have mixed feelings about this, cleaning and feeding is often the only moment were elderly share time with another human presence.
    Would this device not bring more loneliness and more depression, in a time where family solidarity and help seems to gradua
  • by G4from128k ( 686170 ) on Saturday March 06, 2004 @08:56AM (#8484192)
    This will also happen in the U.S. and other developed contries as the cost of these robots drops below the labor cost of employing people. Manufactured goods continue to grow cheaper every day while labor continues to become more expensive. I'm sure that some people won't like the idea of being cared for by robots, but most people will take the cheaper option when they discover the high cost of hiring someone (or their long-term care insurance refuses to reimburse them for high-labor cost care).

    And if the U.S. passes jobs protection laws like those in Europe, I bet that the trend toward replacing people will accelerate. Low interest rates also help this trend by making it cheap (per month) to own an expensive piece of capital equipment. Add to that the fact that robots won't steal from you, take sick days, or quit when they are tired of caring for crotchety old coots, and this trend is inevitable.
  • This a movie already Roujin Z [imdb.com] as I recall was about a healthcare bed that went beserk.
  • Old Lady #1: When my ex-husband passed away, the insurance company said his policy didn't cover him.
    Old Lady #2: They didn't have enough money for the funeral.
    Old Lady #3: It's so hard nowadays, with all the gangs and rap music..
    Old Lady #1: What about the robots?
    Old Lady #4: Oh, they're everywhere!
    Old Lady #1: I don't even know why the scientists make them.
    Old Lady #2: Darren and I have a policy with Old Glory Insurance, in case we're attacked by robots.
    Old Lady #1: An insurance policy with a robot
  • sounds pretty cool... you'd be like half Bender.


  • Pants to help with mobility problems??

    "It's the wrong trousers, Gromit!"

    We all know how that turned out.
  • Haven't they seen Roujin Z [animeworld.com]?!?!? Have the Japanese forgot their future history so quickly?! My gods, next thing you know the Japanese military will be putting Third Generation computers in them and all HELL is going to break loose! Have they gone mad?!
  • (sigh) Didn't we already have jokes about robotic trousers [imdb.com] earlier this week? =b
  • Ya know there's going to be 200 of them. ::shrug::

  • Porn drove the videotape industry to the point where every household has had a VCR unit.

    Here the desire to 'interact' in a bubble bath setting, as seen in Emanuelle 2, is now driving the technology to develop high-tech robots, and the soon-to-be-released "hot tub" T101 will be the next hot new item...

  • My ninja clan has had those pants (and the matching shirts that you guys don't even know about yet) for years.
  • Secretly, I love this idea. As a guy who grew up reading things like "Amazing Stories" and "Astounding", I've always been interested in stories where science and society blend like this - and not just in the normal ways that we have already such as microwaves and houses run by computer, I mean in the Asimov "I Robot" style.

    Of course, we all know that this is eventually where it will lead, even though we both want to embrace it, and are scared of it at the same time: Human like robots. The more familia
  • Just wait... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by sgage ( 109086 ) on Saturday March 06, 2004 @01:22PM (#8485425)
    ... until the robot accidentally drowns some geezer in the tub! Or maybe not accidentally - some evil person hacks it to drown their old man to hurry up the inheritance...

  • this lady [nytimes.com] seems to be enjoying herself!

    maybe this could be more generally useful. perhaps spas that now offer facials etc. could also offer auto-bubblebath.

  • I'm pretty sure that many geeks in this forum have seen Katsuhiro Otomo's satirical masterpiece Rojin Z [imdb.com] where an elderly man was the somewhat unwilling test subject of one of these self-contained nuclear powered nursing robot. Much property destroy...
  • Nursing homes are not seen as a financially viable option in a society where the portion of people aged 65 or over is forecast to soar to 36 percent in 2050, from 19 percent today. By that time there may be only one worker for every retiree.

    I wonder if that ever occured to James Brooke that in 2050 medicine will be able to care about 65-year olds a little bit better than today. You can be a complete anti-future green luddite, but you still have to admit that the progress is happening. Even if none of the
  • Widespread adoption of these types of robots would definitely add a new dimension to disaster planning if a large area has a major power outage like what happened on the east coast a couple years ago.

    I know there is a joke here somewhere, heh.
  • But what if your robot is a cute girl robot with its memory mysteriously erased? You have to teach it how to take a bath first, but you can't take it with you, your buddy's robot can't find any useful information on the net on how to teach your robot how to take a bath, and you'll be stuck waiting for that deus ex machina chick that runs your apartment building to show up at the end of the episode and save the day (not until after your robot embarasses you in front of her again, of course).
  • They are three laws safe right?
  • One of these days I have GOT to visit just to see their renowned technofetish. Not to mention, of course, their used underpants vending machine fetish. ;)

  • Bath takes you!

The Macintosh is Xerox technology at its best.