TOKYO — The Japanese government plans to extend financial assistance to help firms develop low-cost nursing care robots with a price tag of about 100,000 yen ($1,020) as a major feature of its economic growth strategy, government sources said.

Such robots with limited functions are designed to assist elderly people in daily activities and reduce the burden of nursing care workers.

The government hopes to revise nursing care insurance coverage to include the use of these robots, which could make rental charges as low as several hundred yen per month, the sources added.

Four kinds of nursing care robots are included in the plan:

  • A motorized robot suit that can assist in lifting or moving elderly and otherwise impaired patients so that caretakers do not need to exert as much physical strength.
  • An ambulatory robot that can help the elderly and others walk by themselves, even on inclines.
  • A portable, self-cleaning robot toilet that can be placed in living rooms or bedrooms to make using the toilet easier for the e lderly and others.
  • A monitoring robot that can track the movements and whereabouts of dementia patients.

Starting this fiscal year, the government is providing subsidies covering one-half to two-thirds of research and development costs to firms working on nursing care robots. Such subsidies are set to total 2.4 billion yen this fiscal year alone.

Some companies have developed humanoid nursing care robots that can lift and hold patients. However, these cost as much as 20 million yen each and are not widely used.

The government expects nursing care robots around the 100,000 yen price range to become commercialized by fiscal 2016 as a result of focused subsidies and mass production.

The government would include use of such robots in nursing care insurance coverage so they can be rented from companies for 10 percent of the purchase price, the sources said.

If the rental fee for a robot priced at 100,000 yen were only several hundred yen per month, the system would provide a major boost to the use of the nursing care robots, the sources added.

The Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry estimates that the market for nursing care robots will reach upward of 400 billion yen in 2035. Such robots could also be exported to South Korea and China, which have rapidly aging populations, according to the ministry.

According to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, Japan needed an estimated 2 million nursing care workers in 2010, but the actual number of workers was 1.33 million in 2010. The ministry predicts a need for 4 million such workers in 2025.

The government hopes to alleviate the chronic shortage of nursing care workers with the promotion of low-cost nursing care robots, the sources said.