Toyota may be known as a car company, but it’s the concept of mobility that is driving the company forward. Thinking about themselves as a provider of services is helping to define the company’s role in the 21st century. One way the concept is playing out is providing mobility services to people who are home-bound or otherwise disabled. Doug Moore, Toyota’s Director of Technology for Human Support dropped by Net Impact 2017 to talk about the Human Support Robot project – a perfect example of Toyota’s evolution.
The Human Support division of Toyota focuses on new technology solutions and robotics that advance the freedom of mobility to more people. For example, the Human Support Robot or HSR helps with basic household tasks like fetching water and is making a world of difference to quadriplegics and other folks in need of a hand. The HSR isn’t quite at the Star Wars droid level of service but it can already accomplish basic actions that free its owner from needing to call for help or to wait for inconvenient times to get simple things done. And it’s much cheaper than having a 24/7 nurse in the home.
Still very much in the testing phase, the HSR has found a home with US Army veteran Romulo “Romy” Camargo who was paralyzed from the neck down during a mission in Afghanistan. Using the HSR in his home, Romy has been able help Toyota test the robot’s capabilities in a real world environment – perfecting the technology on the fly. In keeping with that spirit, Moore explained the Toyota concept of “Genchi Genbutsu” which loosely translates as “Go and See.”
“It’s the basic principal of the Toyota production system and what’s happening here with the HSR is very much a part of it,” he explains. In other words, the robot will improve best through receiving real world performance data. This
Right now the HSR can follow both voice and tablet commands to fetch items, answer doors, and help its owner communicate. It’s got one main arm and a litany of cameras and other sensors that keep it from running into things. The sensors also allow it to identify and retrieve any number of pre-programmed objects. It’s also capable of acting as a two-way communications device that liberates its owner from needing to pick up a phone.
It’ll be some time before the HSR makes its way into the wild, but tests in Japan as well as in the U.S. are yielding results. At the end of the day Toyota’s goal is to be known as a mobility company – one that provide it for all, including disabled folks.