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Care bear robots to assist with staff shortages in Japanese nurseries

Robot ‘Vevo’ can recognise and greet children as well as record their body temperatures using a thermograph

Japanese nurseries are introducing robots designed to look after children in an attempt to ease the nation’s critical shortage of childcare staff.

Global Bridge Holdings, a Tokyo-based childcare and nursing start-up, has collaborated with Gunma University academics to develop a new technological system using sensors and robots to monitor children.  The new integrated system is currently being trialled at a nursery in Tokyo, one of 27 nationwide child care centres operated by Global Bridge Holdings, with plans to introduce it in a second facility in Gunma Prefecture next month.

Vevo is part of this system, complete with a bear-shaped head and humanoid body, it is able to recognise and greet children as well as record their body temperatures using a thermograph.

The robots work in conjunction with a separate sensors system which monitors the heart rate and movement of children as they sleep in their cots during nap time, with alarms being triggered if any abnormalities are detected.

Once the system has been trialled to their satisfaction, the company is hoping to sell the system for around four million yen (£28,000) from next April.

Japan’s crisis-hit childcare industry, is suffering from a nationwide staff shortage fuelled by the long working hours and low wages that go along with working in childcare nurseries.

However, due to the shortage of staff, many mothers are prevented from returning to work after having children as they are unable to obtain a place in the public childcare system.

As many as 26,081 children were on waiting lists for day care facilities on April 1, the start of this academic year – marking a rise of 2,528 compared to last year – according to the health, labour and welfare ministry.

Yuji Takashima, a spokesperson for Social Solutions, the Global Bridge Holdings subsidiary behind the childcare robotics project, told The Telegraph: “We believe that by supporting childcare education with this robot, we can contribute to resolving the shortage of nursery teacher and improving the quality of education.”

Robotics are increasingly being utilised in Japan to counter human labour shortages in a variety of industries from hotel and leisure to insurance, as the nation struggles with a rapidly ageing population.

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