According to The Asahi Shimbun, comparisons to horse or piggy-back riding are apt, but the real aim of the "Rodem" wheelchair is to provide mobility while "feeling more positive in your life."
The brainchild of robot products maker Tmsuk Co. (pronounced "Temzak"), the device can be easily mounted from the rear and features an adjustable seat.
It can also be summoned with a smartphone.
The groundbreaking product, for which Tmsuk has obtained patents in a host of countries, has overturned the conventional notion of a wheelchair.
A proposal was made at an in-house meeting to call the unique product the "Rodeo" owing to its association with riding a horse, but ultimately it was decided to replace the last letter with "m" for "mobility."
Others, however, have a different theory. They attribute the name to the main character's companion, Rodem, in the old anime "Babel II" from the 1970s. Rodem has the ability to physically transform and sometimes carries the main character on its back.
A Tmsuk employee is said to have been humming or singing the song to himself around the time the company had just started developing the product.
Whatever the origin, Tmsuk President Yoichi Takamoto hopes the Rodem will be used not only by those who have difficulty walking, but also by others as a next-generation means of transportation.
“You lean forward when you are on a Rodem, which makes you feel more positive in your life,” he said at the company’s Kyoto Robotics Lab in the ancient capital.
Tmsuk worked with NTT Docomo Inc. and other companies to conduct trial runs in March in Tokyo’s Marunouchi district, where tourists were invited to ride on a Rodem mounted with a device for providing tourist information on surrounding areas.
Tmsuk is currently working on the development of maps that will allow the Rodem to be used as an autonomous vehicle.
While maps have been developed for use by self-driving cars, which are being tested around the world, few are available for sidewalks and building interiors, which would likely be the main sites of the device's use.
Even a small step can present an obstacle, so the company is collecting vast amounts of data on the locations and types of existing steps.
Akifumi Inoue, 29, an engineer with Tmsuk, said he mounted the Rodem’s front wheels with cushioning to improve rider comfort when the vehicle passes over a step.
The company plans to update the Rodem’s self-driving, self-charging, collision avoidance and other features in the future.
"Having always studied programming, I am determined to manufacture a robot that will always be a friend," Inoue said. "I'll put all my passion into the Rodem."
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