Recherche FFJ Research Statement Toshiaki TANAKA

Toshiaki TANAKA

A study of new technologies of personal mobility and robot suit for the elderly and persons with disabilities.

Life innovation is a growth-driving industry that supports the medical, nursing and health-related industries of Japan, the world leader in longevity. Using life innovation to develop new service and manufacturing industries should enable the construction of a sustainable social security system tailored to Japan’s future super-aged society. A new market of approximately 50 trillion yen and the creation of 2.84 million new jobs is expected in these medical, nursing and health-related services in 2020 (réf 1). Among the technological developments of life innovation, the research, development and commercialization of nursing care robots, personal mobility for the elderly, and life support robots utilizing manufacturing technology as well as advanced medical technology and information and communication technology (ICT) are anticipated.

Many industrial robots have already been introduced to manufacturing sites. According to a 2008 statistical survey conducted by the International Federation of Robotics, 1,035,674 industrial robots were in use worldwide at that time. The total number of professional service robots is 63,000 and they are primarily used in the military, disaster relief, security, outdoor work and other areas. Meanwhile, service robots sold to consumers account for 7.2 million units. The proportion of independence-support robots for the elderly and disabled, however, remains small (réf 2).

Many businesses in Japan are currently researching and developing robots for areas such as life support, entertainment, medical care, nursing care, welfare, disaster relief and personal mobility. Home appliance and automobile manufacturers are researching and developing robots with the ability to communicate and with transferring support function. Japan’s advanced robotics is already expanding overseas in the fields of nursing care, welfare and rehabilitation. However, a few robotic medical devices are not currently widely used in the medical and welfare fields.

Moreover, because the sophisticated and expanding information society infrastructure is greatly influencing how all people work and live, delving into information technology (IT) will become increasingly important in order to achieve life innovation. Cooperation between IT and information network infrastructure is particularly needed in service robots that will require people to coexist with their living environment. The automotive industry is an important industry in mobility technology. In one of their surveys, Roland Berger compared the competitiveness of e-mobility in the seven leading manufacturing nations of electric cars (Germany, France, Italy, the United States, Japan, China and South Korea) by using “technology,” “industry” and “market” indices. 3) In terms of technology, South Korea was the leader, followed by Germany and Japan. In terms of industry, Japan was in the leading position, followed by the United States. In terms of market, France was the leader, followed by the United States and Japan. France has developed automatic driving using road marking (white lines) detection technology as mobility innovation and has had success in restructuring street space with more room for pedestrians. France also uses IT extensively, with buses and traffic signals communicatively linked, thereby achieving signal control through bus operation by drivers. By combining the advantages of Japan’s manufacturing technology and France’s market technology, innovation that takes advantage of both countries’ strengths could be achieved in integrated and sustainable mobility and robotic technology for the elderly and disabled.

The aim of the present study is to investigate innovative technology for sustainable mobility, particularly scientific technology that could improve mobility for the elderly and disabled, with respect to the following issues. 1) Survey exploring the characteristics of the elderly: This study will first examine the mental and physical characteristics of elderly and disabled individuals and then examine the needs of personal mobility and assistive robot technology that elderly and disabled individuals require. The investigative method will involve surveys in the field (facilities for the elderly, hospitals, and homes) and the collection of literature. For the field surveys, a medical device developed by Tanaka’s lab that tests and trains standing balance ability and a smartphone equipped with a standing balance and gait analysis and evaluation application capable of acquiring data in care settings will be used to analyze the physical characteristics of elderly individuals in France and compare their similarities and differences with elderly individuals in Japan (Fig.1). (réf: 5 et 6).

2) Survey of existing mobility and robotic technology: Current mobility and robotic assistive technology tailored to the characteristics of the elderly and disabled individuals examined in the item of 1) will be investigated in Japan and the West. The products investigated will include those at the prototype state and those currently used in care settings. Furthermore, differences in the approval systems, patent procedures and other aspects of medical and assistive device production between Japan and the West will be clarified because this is an important matter in deploying these devices in care settings. In particular, the research being conducted by Tanaka’s lab into a new medical device for balance and gait evaluation and training to prevent falling in the elderly will be used to compare and analyze the fields of medical engineering in Japan and the West. For example, risk factors for falls will be analyzed on the basis of the results of the physical characteristics survey of frail elderly and disabled individuals obtained in the item of 1) to clarify personal mobility and robotic technology that provides support tailored to the level of decline in physical function. The differences in physical characteristics of the elderly between Japan and the West will be used to deepen the discussion regarding necessary personal mobility and assistive robot functions.

3) Survey of Technology of ICT and IoT (Internet of Things): This technology is important to mobility and assistive robotic technology, and areas of this technology such as remote data sharing and remote control are expected to rapidly expand in the future. That is why the current status of this technology designed to support the elderly and disabled will first undergo survey and analysis. One example of this technology is devices that remotely train (tele-rehabilitation system) the muscles in rehabilitation for the disabled. While remote control is possible, no sensory feedback is given to subjects because only muscle strength and joint motion are measured. These devices are thus not widely used in care settings due to the lack of subject information (i.e., joint pain, whether the correct joint exercises are being performed, risk management to avoid control of joint movements by the device) from the system (tele-rehabilitation system). Tanaka’s lab had been engaged in joint research with MIT into tele-rehabilitation systems for the elderly and disabled since 2003 and has been developing this research with the support of the Japanese Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications” since 2012. (réf 7et 8). Challenges of ICT and IoT in care settings will need to be clarified in order to use this personal mobility and assistive robotic technology.

4) Proposals for new technology: In conducting the above three surveys, collective proposals for technology that is currently needed, and new technologies that will be needed in the future in personal mobility and assistive robotics for the elderly and disabled will be made. Therefore, proposals will be made after summarizing trial interviews with researchers, businesses and medical and welfare professionals in both Japan and the West regarding technological developments that are advancing both the necessary future new technologies and existing technologies. Once the characteristics of elderly and disabled individuals are fully understood, proposals for new technologies will be widely made with respect to the important challenges associated with this study and required by care settings (Fig.2).


1) New Growth Strategy, Cabinet Office, Government of Japan,6.18.2010.
2) Service Robot Statistics.
3) E-mobility Index 3rd Quarter 2014, Roland Berger Strategy Consultants – Automotive Competence Center & Forschungsgesell schaft Kraftfahrwesen mbH Aachen, September, 2014. 
4) Fried LP, Tangen CM, Walston J, et al. Cardiovascular Health Study Collaborative Research Group. Frailty in older adults : evidence for a phenotype. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci 2001 ;56 : M146─56.
5) T. Tanaka, S. Noriyasu, S. Ino, T. Ifukube, M. Nakata :Objective method to determine the contribution of the great toe to standing balance and preliminary observations of age-related effects, IEEE Trans. Rehab. Eng.,1996,Vol. 4, No.2, pp.84-90
6) Tanaka T, Shirogane S, Izumi T, Ino S, and Ifukube T. The Effect of Brief Moving Vibratory Stimulation on the Feet for Postural Control in a Comparison Study. Physical & Occupational Therapy in Geriatrics, 24 (1),1-23, 2005.
7) Toshiaki Tanaka, Akira Kudo, Syunichi Sugihara, Takashi Izumi,Yusuke Maeda, Norio Kato, Tomoya Miyasaka, Maureen K.Holden.. A study of upper extremity training for patients with stroke using a virtual environment system as a Journal of Physical Therapy Science.25:575-580,2013.
8) Toshiaki Tanaka, Hidefumi Matsushita, Syunichi Sugihara, Takashi Izumi, Norio Kato, Tomoya Miyasaka, Yusuke Maeda, Yasuhiro Nakajima. Development of Alert System Using Visual and Auditory Stimuli to Assist Patients with Cognitive Impairment During Wheelchair Operation. J. Med. Biol. Eng., 35(6):p1–9,2015.

Toshiaki TANAKA is Professor at Dept. of Physical Therapy, Faculty of Health Sciences, Hokkaido University of Science, and Institute of Gerontology, The University of Tokyo. His research primarily focuses on assessment and treatment of human motor and sensory dysfunctions in Kinesiology, Rehabilitation Science, Ergonomics, and Assistive Engineering. He has attempted to make postural control training program for the elderly and disabled person. Moreover, he is developing new assistive devices for improving Activities of Daily Living (ADL) of the elderly and the disabled persons. He is a member of The Japanese Physical Therapy Association, a board of councilor of The Japanese Society for Fall Prevention and a board of director of The Japanese Society for Wellbeing Science and Assistive Technology.