29th Annual RESNA Conference Proceedings

Innovative Rehabilitation Technologies Emerging from Japan

Rosemarie Cooper MPT,ATP 1,2, Rory A Cooper, PhD1,2
1Human Engineering Research Laboratories, VA Pittsburgh Medical Center , Pittsburgh , PA ;
2Department of Rehabilitation Science and Technology, University of Pittsburgh , Pittsburgh , PA


We will provide a brief introduction of innovative rehabilitation technologies that are being developed and emerging from Japan . Over the last 50 years the number of elderly people in Japan has been on a constant rise and there is a need for Japan to invest in new assistive technologies. The technologies chosen for this paper were presented and demonstrated as part of the 2005 RESJA conference.


All-wheel drive, power wheelchair, wheelchair safety, low cost power add-on alternative,


Over the last 50 years the number of elderly people in Japan has been on a constant rise from an initial 5% measured in 1950 to about 20% in 2005 with an anticipated rise to almost 30% in the year 2050. There is a need for Japan to invest in new assistive technologies as some of these people will have functional limitations or disabilities and will create a severe strain on the healthcare and personal care resources. The technologies chosen in this paper were presented and demonstrated as part of the 2005 RESJA conference held in Saga , Japan . The innovative rehabilitation technologies emerging from Japan range from personal in-home care to high-end personal mobility technologies. The three technologies selected for this paper were found to be promising device representatives of the types of advances being made. The technologies include a new type of all-wheel drive powered wheelchair the "Patrafour", an innovative safety system, by Safety -Life called the "Prop", and a low cost power add-on option for manual wheelchairs.


1) A new type of all-wheel drive powered wheelchair, developed and distributed in Japan since October 2004 by Nissin Medical Industries, is called the "Patrafour". This all-wheel drive wheelchair has adopted special front wheels called "WESN". This name is coined based on the wheel's ability to incorporate all directions (West-East-South-North). This unique driving motion is achieved by a special wheel design that is made up of 16 individual cups that are able to rotate laterally when turning right and/or left. The cups stay aligned when driving forward and/ backward. It is worth noting that these wheels are not a new concept, as they were first introduced in the USA in the 1980's by the Palo Alto VA Rehab. R&D Center . The all-wheel drive power base is driven by a belt system that transmits power from the rear wheels to the front wheels. As steering is done from the rear it allows the "Patrafour" to turn on its own axis that is located between Rh and Lh rear wheels. According to the manufacturer product information, the enhanced driving performance allows the "Patrafour' to negotiate slopes at <10 degrees angles, climb curbs at < 8 cm (3.1"), is capable to negotiate roads with an inclination, and able to drive on rough roads i.e. seashores with packed sand. See pictures of the Patrafour.

2) An innovative safety system, distributed by Safety Life called the "Prop" is an airbag safety system that is designed to protect the wheelchair occupants head upon impact during a fall with the chair. The system consists of a monitoring system that is controlled and activated by a manual on/off switch. When activated the senor mounted on the frame communicates with the airbag safety system i.e. the harness. The harness is designed to protect occupant's head on impact during forward / backward / sideway falls of the wheelchair. The manufacture's literature claims that the forces to the head while wearing the airbag safety system are significantly reduce during a rearward fall (283 G to 43 G) and sideways (300G to 57 G). See pictures of Prop.

3) A rather creative and low cost approach to provide affordable power add-on options for manual wheelchairs was demonstrated by rehabilitation engineering students, participating in the students design contest at RESJA. Their design included an ultra light weight manual wheelchair with a solid footplate and a low cost (< $100) small electric scooter. The manual wheelchair was modified by drilling a hole in the center of its footplate big enough to securely fit over a "peg" welded onto the footboard of the electric scooter. Mounting of the wheelchair onto the scooter required some basic "wheelie" skills as the casters needed to clear the rear wheel of the scooter and for the modified footplate to fit from above onto the "peg". Depending on the quality of the starting mechanism of the scooter, and the students had chosen an inexpensive model, the test pilot, an active manual wheelchair user, had to do a push start of the system that required some skills and coordination, but nevertheless got the system independently started and moving. Once in motion the system performed very similar to a three wheeled scooter with tiller steering mechanism. However, the cost, the versatility and the portability of this system could be some attractive reasons for manual wheelchair users in need of limited power assist and who might not qualify for funding of commercial available power add-on units. See pictures of the Add-On Power Unit.


The technologies chosen for this paper only provide a brief introduction of innovative rehabilitation technologies that are being developed and merging from Japan . They do reflect the awareness of the importance and the need for improved independent mobility and increased wheelchair safety. Japan is recognizing the need to invest in new assistive technologies as the ration of elderly people is increasing and some of these people have functional limitations or disabilities. Japan consumers of Assistive Technology are already experiencing the strain on the healthcare and personal care resources and are looking for affordable mobility alternatives that not only enhances their independence but also adds to the overall quality of their lives.


  1. All wheel drive powered wheelchair "Patrafour"-http:// www.kanto-aw.co.jp
  2. Safety Life "Prop"-http:// www.prop-g.co.jp
  3. Author's picture archives

Author Contact Information:

Rosemarie Cooper , MPT,ATP
7180 Highland Drive
Building 4, 2 nd Floor
East Wing 151R-1
Pittsburgh , PA 15218
Office Phone (412) 365-4850
EMAIL: cooperrm@pitt.edu

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