Honda designs 'power walker' for seniors
By CNN's Kristie Lu Stout
TOKYO, Japan (CNN) -- Honda Motor plans to use robot technology to develop a walking aid for the elderly.
The device, borrowing the technology that enables Honda's ASIMO robot to stride like a human being, will help seniors climb stairs and steep slopes.
The graying of Japanese society is fueling a demand for products engineered for the senior market, prompting companies like Honda and NTT DoCoMo to better address the needs of the elderly.
The walking aid will consist of four motors attached to the user's knees and thighs, stretching joints and preventing muscles from atrophying.
"We are designing the system so it can use the muscles of the human wearer," Honda spokesperson Noriko Okamoto told CNN.
Honda declined to disclose more technical details about the walking device.
The apparatus reportedly has a sensor to detect the user's intention to walk or stop, according to the Nihon Keizai Shimbun.
The business daily added that a trial version of the device was built at a Honda laboratory several months ago, but because of its heavy weight, Honda will have to make designs for lighter and smaller components.
The company says a working prototype should be completed by 2003, but has no intention to commercialize the technology.
"We have no plans for marketing this system at this moment," said Okamoto. "Right now, it is just a development project."
The walking aid is part of Honda's strategy to develop transportation technology that meets the needs of seniors, a marketing phenomenon that is not unique to Japan's automotive sector.
Japan's mobile giant NTT DoCoMo recently commissioned a study to investigate how Japan's older generation is warming up to wireless communication and Internet services.
The survey also revealed how the mobile operator can better tailor its Internet data handsets for the senior market.
DoCoMo parent NTT is also targeting Japan's seniors with its latest communication offering, the L-Mode -- a user-friendly fixed-line Internet data service.
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