Japanese carmaker Toyota has designed a robotic leg to help disabled people walk, which it demonstrated to reporters at its headquarters in Tokyo this week.
The robotic leg, called the Welwalk WW-1000 system, comes with a mechanical frame that fits onto a person's leg below the knee. Patients practice walking using the leg on a special treadmill.
According to Eiichi Saito, a doctor and an executive vice president at Fujita Health University, which helped Toyota develop the robotic leg, it is designed to be worn on one leg for patients who paralysed on one side of their body due to a stroke or other disease.
The device is strapped to the thigh, ankle and foot of the person using it. A motor helps to bend and straighten the knee using information fed by sensors. The system is controlled by medical staff through a touch panel screen.
Toyota's Welwalk WW-1000 device, which took the company 10 years to develop will be made available to medical centres in Japan this year.
According to Toshiyuki Isobe who is with Toyota's Frontier Research Center, ''The biggest challenges have been in determining the needs of the robot market, which is relatively new, and to ensure that our products are safe,'' Reuters reported.
One hundred such systems will be rented to medical facilities in Japan later this year, according to Toyota. The service entails a one-time initial charge of ¥1 million ($9,000) and a ¥350,000 yen ($3,200) monthly fee.
Given the increasing instances of paralysis due to strokes in fast-ageing Japan, Toyota's device could be very helpful, according to Saito. He added patients using it could experience faster recovery as the sensitive robotic sensor in Welwalk fine-tuned the level of support better than a human therapist could.