Therapeutic Robot Pet Baby Seal Probably Won't Steal Your Soul

Paro, a robotic seal, was used to comfort elderly patients after the Japanese tsunami.

Introducing the latest in medical technology: robot pets. They offer everything a regular pet can offer, except for the pooping, peeing, biting, and scratching, making them perhaps more reliable candidates for pet therapy.

Multiple studies are about to begin to evaluate the effects of robot pets on patients with dementia and those undergoing chemotherapy.

A study in Australia aims to determine if robot pets can help patients with dementia learn to communicate and express joy again. Lead researcher Wendy Moyle told The Herald Sun that robot seals have already been used in Japan to help comfort elderly survivors of Japan’s devastating tsunami.

One patient, who had not spoken in two years, surprised his carers when introduced to one of the mechanical seals.

“He started speaking to the robot after five or ten minutes,” Ms. Moyle told The Herald Sun.

“It was a very emotional lesson for staff, because they watched this man who they knew had not been speaking suddenly start speaking to the robot,” said Ms. Moyle. “(Families and staff) start to see the person that they thought had gone away from them.”

Ms. Moyle also said that while many nursing homes keep live animals, the pets can become over-stimulated and over-fed as eager residents rush to shower them with affection.

At the University of California Irvine Medical Center, researchers are studying whether the robotic seal can measurably reduce pain and stress for patients undergoing chemotherapy.

According to gynecologic oncology fellow Dr. Ramez Eskander, the goal is to find new ways to improve what the National Cancer Institute calls complementary therapies those that enhance or support conventional clinical treatment.

$5,582 worth of adorbz.

The idea that animals can assist in emotional and physical healing has been around for decades. A well-known 1980 study suggested that people with coronary heart disease who owned pets lived longer than those without pets. A 1988 study found that a subject’s blood pressure was lowest when petting a dog. Another concluded that patients of a pain management clinic who were exposed to therapy dogs experienced less pain and showed improvements in mood and feelings of well-being.

But not everyone can tolerate a real, live animal some people are allergic, Dr. Eskander noted in a UC Irvine press release.

“In a chemotherapy infusion center, we’re already dealing with individuals whose immune systems are compromised,” he said, adding that patients may also be wary of having an animal so close to the maze of tubes conveying the chemo drugs.”

In both studies, a robotic “healing” seal called Paro is used. The Australian study is also testing robot pet cats and dinosaurs.

Paro, the robotic healing seal, isn’t simply a souped-up Furreal Friend. First of all, it costs $5,582 USD. Also, it’s specifically designed for therapeutic use. The maker’s website says Paro “allows the documented benefits of animal therapy to be administered to patients in environments such as hospitals and extended care facilities where live animals present treatment or logistical difficulties.”

It also, apparently, has five different kinds of sensors, the ability to learn and adapt, and antibacterial fur.

“Paro also imitates the voice of a real baby harp seal,” says the website.

If that’s the case, then real baby harp seals have an incredibly alarming voice. From the video, it seems that when you pet it, it emits some sort of seal-scream. The thing is adorable, but you’d think that with a price tag of $5,582, it could play Brahms or something.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vx8mv87e6wE[/youtube]

(Photo Credit: Paro Robots)

Read more from Joslyn at Strollerderby and at her blog, stark. raving. mad. mommy. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

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