Toyota’s latest robot can help the disabled with tasks around the home

Toyota has completed the first in-home trial of a robot designed to help those with limited mobility carry out everyday tasks.

The Human Support Robot (HSR) has been in the lab for several years, but the team behind it recently decided to give it a run in the real world, taking it to the home of Romulo “Romy” Camargo, a decorated war veteran who suffered injuries in Afghanistan that left him paralyzed from the neck down.

During the trial, the robot helped Romy with a range of home-based tasks, including opening doors and fetching things like bottles of water or snacks from the pantry. Toyota posted a video showing the robot helping out a clearly delighted Romy, though it’s fair to say his young son was pretty stoked about it, too.

The HSR is about a meter tall and features a telescopic body, extendable folding arm, and flexible hand. The current version of the sensor-laden robot responds to QR-like codes placed on various objects about the home that help it to build up a map of its operating area. In the video we see Romy using a mouth stick to tap out commands on a tablet, with the wheel-based robot responding accordingly. It can also understand voice commands.

“This is a big game changer for everybody that has a disability,” Romy said, adding that the HSR could be part of “the next chapter of human support robots helping people with disabilities.”

Toyota is still refining the robot’s design and plans to use its experience with Romy to make it even more useful and efficient.

Design plan

When Toyota’s engineers set out designing the HSR, they decided to focus on three key areas. First, they wanted a compact and lightweight body to better accommodate a wide range of household designs. This means its extendable arm and telescopic body allow the robot to retain a small footprint while giving it decent reach to better perform a variety of tasks.

Second, it had to be super safe, prompting the team to include start-of-the-art obstacle avoidance technology as well as an arm that moves slowly and without any great force.

Finally, it had to have an intuitive interface that’s easy to use, whether via voice command or hand- and mouth-held devices, depending on the user’s disability.

The HSR is actually one of a number of robots that Toyota is developing to assist the disabled and elderly. The Japanese company recently unveiled the latest version of its robotic leg brace aimed at helping partially paralyzed people to walk, and it’s also developing a Care Assist Robot aimed at medical and care facilities to help workers lift patients to and from their beds.

On a different note, Toyota also has plans to start selling its diminutive Kirobo robot, a 34-cm-tall android that apparently wants to be your buddy.