Companionship is one of the most important necessities in life, like shelter and food. Having someone to talk to or attend outings with can make for better, happier days. Sometimes, though, the best companion is a furry, feathered or scaly friend to cuddle and care for. While owning a pet or interacting with an animal may not be possible for everyone, older adults can still gain the benefits of pets through robots.
What Is a Robot Pet?
Imagine coming home after a long day at work and being greeted by a loving pet who greets you when you come home, is always ready to snuggle, never has to eat and never has to “go potty.” Robopets provide many of the perks of a real pet without all of the responsibility. These furry robofriends are more technologically sophisticated and lifelike than remote-controlled toy dogs. Most are made with realistic fur for optimal petting experience and make sounds and small movements like Hasbro’s Joy for All Companion Pets or Ollie the baby otter.
Paro, another robopet, is the one of the most popular companion robots. It has been studied and written about by many researchers and journalists. (It even made an appearance on Netflix’s award-winning show, ”Master of None.”) Paro is a robotic baby harp seal with lush black eyelashes and a pacifier that doubles as its charger.
Created by Japan's National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST), Paro is more than a stuffed animal. The little seal is packed with five kinds of sensors: touch, light, audio, temperature and posture. Plus, it can tailor its actions to the user. According to the Paro website, “If you stroke it every time you touch it, PARO will remember your previous action and try to repeat that action to be stroked.”
How Can Robot Pets Help?
While animal-assisted therapy and the of pets have been analyzed in numerous scientific studies, real animals may not always be the appropriate choice for an older adult. Animals can transfer some diseases to humans, they may not always be on their best behavior and they may not feel like interacting with people some days. That’s where robotic pets come into play, literally.
In a 2013 study on Paro’s effect on hospital/nursing home residents, researchers found those who interacted with Paro, the animatronic seal, were less lonely over the period of trial. Another study looked at a robotic dog’s effect on nursing facility residents with severe dementia and found they talked to and cared for the robodog. They did understand the dog was truly a robot; however, when researchers dressed up Paro, the residents treated the robot like a real dog or even a baby.
The Future of Robot Pets
Robot pets are becoming a common fixture in assisted living communities and And, as years go by, these robopets will become more advanced at mimicking real animals – even some human behaviors. Currently, Hasbro has introduce artificial intelligence to their Joy for All Companion Pets line, so the pets can do things like remind someone to take their medication.