Like shelter and food, companionship is one of the most important necessities in life. 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 modern robotics.
What Is a Robot Pet?
Imagine coming home after a long day at work and being welcomed by a loving pet who greets you warmly and is ready to snuggle. Better yet, imagine a pet that never has to be fed 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. Many feature realistic fur for an optimal petting experience and make sounds and small, natural movements. Take a look at Hasbro’s Joy for All Companion Pets or Ollie the baby otter, for example.
Paro, another robopet, is one of the most popular companion robots. 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, Paro 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 Older Adults?
While animal-assisted therapy and the benefits of pets have been analyzed in numerous scientific studies, real animals may not always be the appropriate choice for an older adult. Animals can be a lot of work, they can transfer some zoonotic diseases to humans and they may not always be on their best behavior. That’s where robotic pets literally come into play.
In a study on Paro’s effect on hospital/nursing home residents, researchers found that those who interacted with Paro, the animatronic seal, were less lonely over the period of the trial.
The Future of Robot Pets
Robot pets are becoming a common fixture in assisted living communities and, as years go by, these robopets will become more advanced at mimicking real animal behaviors. While some believe that robot pets can’t compete with real animals, the companionship they provide to older adults cannot be denied.