The Emergence of Care Robotics – A Publication and Patent Analysis
Technology and Innovations Management Working Paper No. 68
29 Pages Posted: 27 Jul 2012
Date Written: January 26, 2012
Beds that change into wheelchairs, voice-based robots that autonomously serve drinks and medication or robotic suits that provide its wearer with supernatural powers - all of this sounds like science-fiction, however these seemingly futuristic devices already exist today and are being tested to support old or people with physical and or mental handicaps. These and the many other examples of robotic appliances are being developed by researchers, institutes or industrial firms around the world. Robots shall make life easier or more livable again for people restricted in their way of living – due to age, loss of physical and mental strength.
Lacking a universally accepted definition for these solutions so far, we summarize them under the label care robotics. These include apparatuses that enable people affected by physical or mental handicaps to remain as autonomous as possible or to regain autonomy already lost. Autonomy concerns confined tasks (e.g. eating or holding something) or more complex activities (e.g. running stairs, interacting with others). Beside the persons directly affected, care robots support care-takers with regard to fulfilling elements of their work with the handicapped.
With this study we aim to analyze the current status of this emerging field from the perspective of innovation activity levels and in order to provide answers to the following two research questions: 1. Which organizations and individuals in which countries have been and are active in research and development of care robotics? 2. How has research and development in care robotics emerged with regard to activity focus, intensity levels and cooperation?
To provide answers to these questions we comparatively analyzed international patent applications and scientific publications. 564 priority patent applications were extracted from the PATSTAT database including applications up until 2009 and 2435 publications were extracted from ISI Web of Science. The analysis was conducted on country, organization (i.e. universities and firms) and individual levels. Further we applies social network analysis using the publication dataset to gain insights into collaborative research activities of actors.
Our results show that over the last 30 years research and development activities focused on care robotics has constantly increased, which is reflected by the growing number of patents and publications. While universities dominate the publication landscape, patent applications are filed primarily by industrial firms. Today Japan appears to be the most active player in care robotic research. This was however not always the case. In early stages US and European organizations were pioneering care robotics developments with regard to both patenting and publishing. But for the last decades, it is almost exclusively Japanese companies that patent in this area. In addition to the “traditional” players – Japan, the US and Europe – South Korea and China have appeared on the scene recently. Still the most active individual researchers are Japanese.
Overall, very few international research hubs have emerged. Among them are two Japanese organizations (ATR, AIST) and Carnegie Mellon University from the US to be mentioned.
Our social network analysis further indicates that the amount of global cooperation has constantly increased over the past decades. Starting out with many disjunctive small networks or independent organizations, care robotics research networks have evolved to become highly interconnected. However, most cooperation clusters are still found within the same country. Not surprisingly compared to university collaborations in research and development, the patenting data indicates industrial collaboration activities by far less.
This research is to be understood as the starting point, descriptive and based on publicly available material. Further research will be needed to better understand motives, strategies and resource allocation decisions of institutions and actors concerning care robotics. With this report we hope to raise the interest of these and others interested.
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