AIST has been involved with industrial-grade humanoids for years, but they’ve also explored therapeutic robots which present no risk of allergic reaction or potentially traumatizing animal attack. Paro, the robotic seal, has already proven successful in calming belligerent patients suffering from dementia in Japanese and American hospitals. Specifically, three main benefits have been shown:
- Alleviating depression
- Psychological advantages (stress reduction)
- Social benefits (increased communication)
And it’s not just the elderly that are benefiting from Paro’s therapeutic charms. Autistic and handicapped children are being introduced to him already, with the robot being shipped to more than 20 countries worldwide. Not bad for a glorified stuffed animal.
AIST originally made Paro in the shape of a kitten, but it proved a little too uncanny for patients who had prior experience with cats. A seal pup, they figured, is unusual enough that patients would be less prone to notice its robotic predisposition. Researchers even went on an arctic expedition to collect photos of the real thing!
Paro comes equipped with surface tactile sensors in its body and whiskers which allow the robot to respond to touch. It has limited movement, but can raise its head, wiggle its fins, blink, and make cute noises. The average life expectancy of Paro is about 10 to 20 years, with annual battery exchanges and fur cleanings costing little more than a check-up for a real pet. All of these benefits considered, Paro seems like a pretty good deal at a cost of around $6000 per unit.
AIST | Impress Robot Watch