Japan has the most aged society in the world, according to a Reuters report, and one of the effects of this trend is a shrinking workforce.
In response, engineers and scientists have begun imagining and building solutions that will mitigate the impacts – as other countries who face similar demographic shifts look on for inspiration.
One such solution comes from the talented team in the Graduate School of Media Design at Keio University, led by professor Yamen Saraiji, one of the winners of the YouFab Global Creative Awards 2018, and Junichi Nabeshima, a graduate student and researcher. See Yamen’s work Fusion here.
The team decided to focus on one of the most basic human senses and mechanics and one with which aging populations tend to struggle: balance. Taking a cue from the way animals use their tails to shift their center of gravity, improve mobility, and navigate changing terrains, the team developed Arque, a wearable, robotic device modeled after the tail of a seahorse.
The prosthetic tail prototype is made up of spring-loaded joints that form connected vertebrae, with artificial muscles strewn through the cavity. In order to enable movement, an air compressor is used, and currently allows for motion in eight different directions.
Arque measures 71 cm (28 in) long and 11.5 cm (4.5 in) wide, but its fundamental design can be adapted to create shorter and longer tails depending on the wearer and use case.
“The tail keeps balance like a pendulum,” Junichi Nabeshima, a graduate student and researcher on the project, describes what it’s like to wear the device. “When the wearer tilts their body one way, the tail moves in the opposite direction to compensate and bring the wearer back to their center of balance.”
The team has been traveling to various shows to demo Arque while also thinking about future iterations; they’d like to reduce the overall weight of the tail to make it fully mobile and also evaluate its usability for medical and rehabilitative applications. For example, they’d like to try combining it with sensors or linking it up to brain signals as a way to power an artificial limb.
“Our team looks forward to improving on the current version and continuing to test for various use cases,” said Saraiji.
Learn more: Arque by Emobied Media
Author: Justine Lee
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