If you have been following the Netflix comedy series starring Aziz Ansari, “Master of None,” you would have observed that a cute baby seal appears several times in an episode on aging, aptly titled “Old People.” In one touching scene, viewers can see Arnold pass a baby seal robot to Gideon. That baby seal, ladies and gentlemen, is a PARO Therapeutic Robot.
The PARO Therapeutic Robot has been described as simply an expensive medical device. It is basically that, but you can choose to think of it as a cute toy for the elderly. Or you can also think of it as a pet replacement, an alternative for those who miss the companionship of a pet but can no longer care for one.
Out of its more than 30 users in the United States, only a handful of individuals use the baby harp seal robot. The majority of PARO’s users are organizations and institutions, mostly hospitals and nursing homes. This is mainly due to the robot’s high cost, which is in the thousands of dollars ($6,000 to be exact).
PARO, designed by Takanori Shibata of the Intelligent System Research Institute of Japan, uses five kinds of sensors. Its light sensor perceives light and dark. Its posture sensor knows when it’s being held, while its tactile sensor recognizes when it’s stroked or hit. An audio sensor knows where a voice is coming from and what it’s saying. It recognizes its name, greetings, praise, and other words.
The PARO Therapeutic Robot is dubbed as the world’s most therapeutic robot as certified by Guinness World Records, according to its official website. It acts like a real live baby seal, even making the animals’ sounds, and provides effects such as one would get in a traditional pet therapy.
It helps its owners or users in many ways.
1. PARO increases social interaction. The robot real helps seniors open up and communicate.
2. It has a calming effect on agitated seniors. It helps relieve their stress.
3. It improves the elderly’s mood and helps them relax better.
4. PARO has also been especially helpful in seniors suffering from dementia.
PARO is not the only therapeutic robot around. There’s Ollie, the baby otter robot, which is marketed as an affordable PARO alternative (a prototype costs only costs $500 to build). Hasbro, the toy company that makes Play-Doh, has recently launched its own toy robot for the elderly, too. Its robot takes on the form of a cat and sells for $99.
The use of therapeutic robots is not limited to the elderly. Other therapeutic robots are designed for kids. For instance, Huggable is a teddy bear robot that’s designed to take care of and comfort children in the hospital.