Health

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Katsumi Kasahara/AP
Model Miki Murakami holds mental commitment robot Paro, one of the winners of the
Robot of the Year 2006 award by Japan's Economy, Trade and Industries Ministry.

Robotic Baby Seal Immigrates to U.S.

June 30, 2008 07:00 AM
by Rachel Balik
A robotic seal used to treat loneliness and dementia in Japanese nursing homes makes its way to America.

30-Second Summary

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By 2010, 28 percent of Japan’s population will be over 65. That means there will be a dearth of young people to serve as caretakers, so the technologically inclined country has explored other alternatives. Scientists at Japan’s National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology spent 12 years developing Paro, a robotic baby seal, and now, after successful implementation in nursing homes in Japan, Paro is making its way to the United States.

Paro is considered an improvement over Aibo, a robotic dog invented and discontinued a few years ago. Scientists found that Aibo also had a positive effect on the elderly. A study at Saint Louis University sent one group of patients to play with a real dog, and another to play with Aibo. Professor of geriatric medicine William A. Banks reported that “they worked almost equally well in terms of alleviating loneliness and causing residents to form attachments.”

Aibo did not look or feel like a real dog, however, and Sony canceled production. Scientists feel that, because most people have never encountered a live seal pup, it will be easier for them to accept Paro as a pet. But one physician and professor of aging is wary. “I have no doubt that I could thrill a group of older people with a fur-covered robot. … But it doesn’t solve anything.”

Headline Link: ‘Robotic Baby Seal Coming to U.S. Shores’

Background: Robotic animals aid the elderly

Opinion & Analysis: Are robotic pets the real deal?

Reference: Japan’s elderly population

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