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Japan hospital tests robot to assist caretakers moving heavy beds

A nurse tries out a prototype of the mobility support robot, foreground, to move a patient's bed by herself at Kitakyushu City Yahata Hospital in Fukuoka Prefecture on March 21, 2022. (Mainichi/Emi Aoki)

KITAKYUSHU -- A hospital in this southwest Japan city tested a robot on March 21 to assist caretakers moving heavy beds in a bid to reduce the burden on medical workers amid the strain of the coronavirus pandemic.

    Patients' beds are usually moved by two people, but this puts a large load on hospital staff's lower backs and other body parts, and is one of the reasons why some leave the job.

    Kitakyushu City Yahata Hospital in the city's Yahatahigashi Ward in Fukuoka Prefecture tested a prototype of the robot made by Reif Co., a Kokurakita Ward-based company developing and manufacturing medical-related equipment. With cooperation from the hospital, the company is aiming to promptly turn the device into practical use.

    The prototype is 95 centimeters tall, 45 cm wide, 42 cm long, and weighs about 50 kilograms. With a built-in battery and motor, it lifts a patient's bed frame to assist a nurse to move it. A bed carrying a patient, with medical equipment attached to it, can weigh up to 300 kg, but according to Reif, the robot reduces the initial force to start moving the bed by about 90%, meaning that just one person is required to move the heavy bed.

    In the March 21 test, financed by the Kitakyushu Municipal Government, five nurses participated in moving a bed about 60 meters in a scenario in which a patient had to be transferred for a checkup. The nurses' heart rates and time to move the bed were measured to check the burden on their bodies.

    The hospital's vice director Koji Okamoto commented, "Mechanical devices will allow doctors and nurses to focus on providing medical care. We'd like to think about making improvements together as the safety aspect is also important."

    Reif President Masao Mori said, "The coronavirus has boosted interest in introducing (medical) devices. We're aiming for an early commercial release in 2023 or later."

    (Japanese original by Emi Aoki, Kyushu News Department)

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