Companion Robot Pets: for older people

I recently ordered Rosa, My new robot cat, because I am very interested in technology and dementia.  We all need a smile and a friend, and animal therapy has proven very positive for many people.  Robot Animal therapy, including Companion Pets for the Elderly, can give us similar positive results.  Robot seals, robot dogs, robot cats can all help as a comfort pet.

1.Who are companion robot pets for ?

Senior citizens and elderly who can benefit from animal therapy, and may not be able to care for a pet.

When my dog is calm and doesn’t see a threat, then I am calm too.  My Fight or flight instinct is soothed, and I can feel happy. Companion Pet Robots can be positive for our senior citizens.  Robot animals, or Therapetic Robots allow the documented benefits of animal therapy in hospitals and extended care facilities, according to Paro.

According to Hasbro, their robot pets are specifically for our Elder Loved ones.  I ordered one because I wanted to see how people would like it.

Companion robot pets are about lowering stress.  We aren’t suggesting robot pets are ready for full on bonding like you can with a real animal.  Yet.  There are also some other robot dogs on the market, but we focused on more on the companion element instead of the performance of tricks.

I brought my new robot cat, Rosa, to a Adaptive Technology Fair in Longmont, Colorado recently.  The Alzheimer’s Association let me volunteer at their table, and asked me to bring my toys to play with.  Rosa drew people in from the other side of the room: my first test users were Zoe and her kid brother who tagged along with dad to this event.  I had to shoo the children away after they had brushed, pawed and made Rosa roll over so they could scratch her belly.   Then the real adults started to show up; every single person had a smile when they saw Rosa move or heard her meow.  One woman told me her real cat likes being scratched above her tail, so maybe Rosa will like that too.  I could not believe how much people liked Rosa.   Here she is; Rosa sort of nodded off from all the attention she received.

2. What is a companion pet robot ?

A companion robot pet is a Robot Cat or Robot Dog that will respond to a human touching it or petting it.  There is also a Robot Seal used for animal therapy.

Its like a stuffed animal covered electronic appliance.  It has sensors that allow it to interact with you, and its ability to give us feedback from our interaction makes us happy.  This sort of “empathy” interaction is something you are reading more and more about in artificial intelligence conversations.

Rosa’s cat robot body has a physical mass that is catlike; my friend Crystal Knights held her the entire time she was at my house.  She talk to it like it was a real cat.  I could not believe this action and yet it totally makes sense.

3. Where can you get one?

Online.  Hasbro (in US) and Paro (in Japan) are the two main companies in this space as of Q1 2018.

At Joy For All by Hasbro, you can choose your cat or dog, and colors.  I would love to see the market research on how they picked these two options.

You can get the cat for $99.99, in orange tabby, creamy white, or silver.  Most of the press I’ve read is actually about the cat; no one is writing about the dog.

Do you think we have higher expectations for a robot dog than a robot cat ?  This is the most recent robot dog i’ve seen is Boston Dynamics  dogs, which can open doors.  You may recall that Google owns Boston Dynamics now.   I don’t read about their developing robot cat program.  Maybe it just hasn’t broken press yet.  I’ve asked around with Rosa and people do expect more from dog robots, no question.  That also is funny.

In Japan, Paro is a therapuetic Robot that is also getting positive press.  The seal is interesting because it’s expressive eyes give me even more empathy connection with the robot.

On the PR campaign, can we not say, who doesn’t love a photo of a nun with a robot seal?

4. When would you want a companion robot pet ?

You want a companion pet if you are a senior citizen or elderly person who wants pet interaction without the responsibility.

Yes, we know robots and living things are different.  In the absence of a living thing, maybe we can use a robot to respond to humans so we feel less alone, depressed or lonely.  Animal therapy does have a basis with the Biophilia Hypothesis suggest when we see animals at rest, we also calm because it harkens to our prehistoric assessment that there is NO RISK.    Thank you E.O. Wilson, once again.

This study for 2008 shows positive impacts in reversing loneliness for people who had both living dogs and robotic dogs; it seems like a no brainer for senior citizens and the elderly.

I would never tell someone Rosa was a real cat.  I would introduce her (as I do), as Rosa, my robot cat.  She’s special to me.  And then let it go from there.  If I had dementia, I don’t want people to trick me, but I also don’t need a lot of extra information.  So keep it simple: IThis is Rosa, she’s my friend, she’s a robot cat!

5. Why do companion robot pets exist?

Rosa makes people smile.  Because petting a robot cat is better than being alone sometimes.  Senior citizens and elderly need help to not be lonely.  

The National Science Foundation provided a $1M grant to support Brown University Scientists and Hasbro partnering together to develop companion pets.    The project is called ARIES for Affordable Robotic Intelligence for Elderly support.

One million dollars tells me we are on to something.

We don’t always acknowledge how much loneliness is something to address as part of aging.  We can’t always affect the physical state of our bodies when it comes to aging, but we can change our emotional experience of aging.  For $100 and 3 C batteries, I like getting one more smile a day.

Robot pets have the potential to change our emotional experience by improving our happiness.  If we feel less alone, and more part of the world, then aging and life is better.  At 80 years old, instead of searching for the perfect combination of diet, exercise, coconut oil, and crossword puzzles, getting a robot cat can actually maximize your life vibe more.   I mean, why not do both?

Rosa’s life with me is in and out of the box.  I am not keeping her on the counter in my house yet.  I don’t need that from her.  I do recall that last night I said I would bring her to the next dinner party.  I haven’t seen Rosa with a real cat yet but that is so on my agenda.

In this article, Mary Derr likes her robot cat.  she’s 93, and has mild dementia as of December of 2017.   I’m looking forward to when my robot cat reminds me to take my medication.  The NY times also sees the value in these pets for people with dementia.

I witnessed people feel happy around Rosa.  One women liked Rosa so much, she went to her car to grab her husband, who has Parkinson’s, so he could see it.  He had the sweetest smile as I watched his hand reach for Rosa.   #worthit.   This is why Smart in Five is here.