Toyota recently completed its first in-home trial of its new Human Support Robot. The Japanese auto giant built the HSR to help people with disabilities perform everyday tasks around the home, like open doors and fetch water bottles. In this case, the robot was delivered to the home of a US Army vet who is paraplegic, and, as you can imagine, the results were quite heartwarming.
The HSR, with its articulated torso and arm and video calling functionality, has mainly been in use in hospitals in Japan, helping with that country’s rapidly aging population. Demonstrations showed people operating the HSR remotely via a touchscreen tablet to open curtains and deliver food and water to bed-ridden family members. But this is the first time the robot has been used in someone’s private home.
“a natural extension of our work as a mobility company that helps people navigate their world”
Romulo “Romy” Camargo is a decorated war veteran who was wounded in Afghanistan, leaving him paralyzed below the neck. Toyota said the goal was to help Camargo regain some independence and improve the quality of his life.
“At Toyota, we have a commitment to enriching lives by advancing mobility for all – whether it’s around town or across your living room,” said Doug Moore, senior manager, Technology for Human Support at Toyota, in a statement. “This includes developing technology solutions to assist people with limited mobility. We see our research with Romy and the HSR as a natural extension of our work as a mobility company that helps people navigate their world.”
A video produced by Toyota shows researchers building and testing the HSR’s capabilities, using QR code-like symbols to help the robot’s sensors identify everyday objects. Afterward, the robot is delivered to Camargo’s home, where he shown using pencil in his mouth to tap commands on a touchscreen to direct the robot to open doors and fetch a water bottle. At one point, the robot fist-bumps Camargo’s son — and that’s the part where I teared up a little.
“This is, you know, a big game-changer for everybody that has a disability,” Camargo says in the video. “If I can help in anyway, the better my life will be just because [of the] satisfaction.”
The HSR’s origins date back to 2007, when Toyota launched its Robot Partner program aimed at developing robots that could integrate into everyday life. Since then, we've seen them used for personal transport, playing violin, and even heard plans to send them to the Moon. In 2011, Toyota unveiled a series of robotic braces and exoskeletons designed to improve rehabilitation of injured or sick patients, helping with walking, balance, and posture; along with aiding in transferring patients between beds.
Then in 2015, the world’s biggest automaker announced the creation of the Toyota Research Institute, to develop AI technologies in two main areas: autonomous cars and robot helpers for around the home. The company said it planned to pump $1 billion into the institute over the next five years.