No doubt about it, people in developed countries are getting older and older. Case in point: The number of knee replacements in the U.S. grew from 257,000 in 1998 to 455,000 in 2004. Since doctors rarely perform knee replacements on patients under 50, those numbers can reflect only one thing: an aging and progressively nonambulatory population.
Hip-replacement surgeries follow a similar trend. For evidence, consider the following chart, which aggregates knee and hip replacement surgeries performed in Ontario, Canada from 1992 to 2002. (If you're wondering, the dips reflect seasonal fluctuations. Not surprisingly, doctors perform fewer surgeries during their summer vacations and Christmas holidays.)
Source: BMC Health Services
These trends haven't escaped the notice of researchers at Waseda University, the Japanese equivalent of MIT. By creating QNX-based robots that walk like humans, the researchers hope to gain insights that will help older people walk longer. The bipedal robots act as human motion simulators, allowing researchers to generate quantitive data that can't easily (or safely) be measured with human subjects. Ultimately, the researchers believe this data will aid in the development of new healthcare technologies and therapies.
As someone whose knees have been wonky since 1987, I’m looking forward to their results. :-)
For technical details on the QNX-based WABIAN-2R robot used in this research, click here.