Japanese 'robotic powered' harness helps elderly lift heavy loads

TOKYO (REUTERS) - A robotic powered harness is enabling Japan's ageing workers to continue carrying heavy items. 

The harness, called the "Power Assist Suit", supports the lower back by keeping it aligned and taking on a lot of the weight.

At the Ueda Company, more than half the staff are in their 40s and 50s. Among them is 57-year-old Hiroaki Okutani, who suffered from a slipped disc last year. But the device enables him to lift boxes weighing more 70kg.

"To be honest, it is best to employ younger people because of their physical capabilities," said Mr Yuichi Hayashi, the head of logistics at Ueda.

"However, as it gets harder to secure those young workers due to the shrinking and aging population of workers, in this situation, people in their 40s and 50s become our core labor force on the work floor."

In Japan's rapidly aging society, more than a fourth of the population is over 65.

A start-up launched from Panasonic's venture programme, ATOUN, makes the harness. The device sells for roughly US$9,000 (S$12,500) a piece.