Photo/Illutration A pharmacy staff member loads a cardboard box in a robot developed by Kawasaki Heavy Industries Ltd. on Dec. 2 in Tokyo. (Koichi Murakami)

In a preview of the future, two robots loaded a cardboard box at a pharmacy and started traveling along a sidewalk in Tokyo at a speed of 3 to 4 kph.

The automatons were bound for a nursing home 2 kilometers from the drugstore on Dec. 2. 

A demonstration experiment on the delivery of drugs and food for elderly people by a robot has been ongoing in the capital.

Since mid-November, four companies, including Kawasaki Heavy Industries Ltd., Sompo Japan Insurance Inc. and Nagoya-based Tier IV Inc., have participated in the testing of an automated delivery system that is expected to help solve the serious caregiver shortage.

Two types of robots, developed by Kawasaki Heavy Industries and Tier IV, have been used in the experiment.

These robots can travel automatically along a straight road, based on pre-installed map information.

A robot developed by Kawasaki Heavy Industries Ltd. arrives at a nursing home on Dec. 2 in Tokyo. (Koichi Murakami)

But they need to be operated by a human when they are at a signalized intersection or in an area where there is an obstacle, such as a parked car.

The companies hope to make the system fully automated in the future.

The population has been aging rapidly, resulting in the number of elderly people needing care to increase.

But the shortage of human resources to meet the demand remains serious.

If a robot can carry out shopping chores, caregivers can focus on personal care for the elderly and it will promote operational efficiency, the companies hope.

The companies have yet to determine when such a system will be commercialized. But they expect such a service will be in high demand.