Toyota Robot Tasked With Helping Paralyzed U.S. Army Veteran

Toyota's Human Support Robot is designed to help the disabled with everyday tasks.

Toyota

Many automakers are trying to develop self-driving cars, but Toyota is interested in a different type of intelligent machinery. The Japanese automaker believes robots can provide valuable assistance to people with limited mobility.

To prove that point, Toyota placed its prototype Human Support Robot (HSR) with Romulo "Romy" Camargo, a former U.S. Army Ranger who sustained injuries in Afghanistan that left him paralyzed from the neck down. During an in-home trial, the robot helped Camargo with simple tasks, opening doors and fetching bottles of water or snacks.

Standing about 53 inches tall, the HSR rides around on a Roomba-like round base, and uses a small arm to grab things. It can be controlled either by voice command or through a smartphone or tablet. A flip-up screen allows for video chatting.

Toyota's interest in robots as caregivers is a response to the aging population in its home country. Japan has an outsize number of elderly citizens, and a shortage of human caregivers. The desire to allow both the elderly and the disabled to live more independently is also one of the stated goals of Toyota's nascent self-driving car program.

To that end, Toyota is developing an array of robots to assist with various tasks. In addition to the HSR, it developed a Transfer Assist Robot to help transfer people between different seating positions, such as from a bed to a chair. Because this normally involves lifting a person, it can be a particularly taxing task for human caregivers. Toyota also created an Auto Access Seat to help people get in and out of vehicles.

As if robot assistants weren't sci-fi enough, Toyota is also working on a robotic leg brace, called Welwalk WW-1000, to help paralyzed people walk—as well as a concept called Project BLAID, which is designed to give blind people a greater degree of environmental awareness.