What’s the best way for a country with one of the most rapidly-growing elderly populations to deal with staffing shortages in the medical industry? Well, obviously you would need to invent a giant robotic nurse, and it would naturally have to look like a teddy bear.

Let’s take a look at the cutesy future of Japanese healthcare:


Is it cute, or is it creepy? Either way, the state-run Riken research center’s “Robot for Interactive Body Assistance” (more affectionately known as “Riba”) could be just what Japan’s hospitals are looking for—nurses that don’t need salaries or lunch breaks.

Riba 2

Weighing in at 400 pounds, this cuddly caretaker boasts foam-padded paws, a soft skin-like exterior, and a sweet face designed especially for the patient’s aesthetic pleasure. With features like that, Riba can attend to patients and move them around without scaring them to death. After all, what’s the use of a robot nurse if it accidentally gives old people heart attacks?

Capable of face and voice recognition as well as responding to verbal commands, Riba is actually an upgrade to Riken’s 2006 “Ri-Man” robot, which could only lift 40 pounds compared to Riba’s 134. New and improved processors also allow Riba to move around more quickly than Ri-Man.

While there are no plans to go commercial with Riba any time soon, Riken hopes to turn the robot loose in multiple Japanese hospitals over the next five years. Will Riba be able to soothe elderly patients with its robotic charms? Only time will tell if giant teddy bears make decent caretakers or not.