Paro Robot Seal Helps Grandma

Paro is a robot that looks like a baby harp seal. Developed by AIST in Japan years ago, it has finally arrived in America - to help Grandma in the nursing home.

Paro offers these benefits:

  • Paro has been found to reduce patient stress and their caregivers
  • Paro stimulates interaction between patients and caregivers
  • Paro has been shown to have a Psychological effect on patients, improving their relaxation and motivation
  • Paro improves the socialiazation of patients with each other and with caregivers.

(Paro baby robot seal in the wild - in Japan)

Paro has five kinds of sensors - tactile, light, hearing, temperature and posture. To put it another way, Paro can sense the difference between being alone or being stroked, between night and day, between silence and talking, between warm and cold and even whether it is being held. Paro can also recognize the direction of voice and words such as its name, greetings, and praise

Paro learns to behave in a way that its user prefers; it can respond to the name Grandma gives it, now that Paro has come to American nursing homes.

Nursing-home workers and academics who study human-robot interaction are trying to figure out whether the $6,000 seal, cleared last fall by U.S. regulators as a Class 2 medical device (a category that includes powered wheelchairs) represents a disturbing turn in our treatment of the elderly or the best caregiving gadget since the Clapper.

"Some of our residents need more than we as human beings can provide," says Marleen Dean, activities manager at Vincentian Home, one of four facilities run by Pittsburgh-based Vincentian Collaborative System. Vincentian Collaborative recently used a $55,000 grant to purchase eight Paros and finds them especially comforting to patients with dementia. "We've tried soft teddy bears that talk and move. But they don't have the same effect."

Science fiction fans are probably thinking about the electric sheep and other robotic animals from Philip K. Dick's 1968 novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?.

However, I was thinking about the medical care robots from The Rowan, a 1990 novel by Anne McCaffrey. Pukhas are specially programmed stabilizing surrogate devices, and like Paro, they have sensor fur:

They could be programmed for a variety of uses, but more often were used in surgical and long-term care with great effect and as surrogates for intense dependency cases. ...thought had been given to its programming: its long soft hair was composed of receptors, monitoring the child's physical and psychic health.
(Read more about pukhas)

Via Wall Street Journal; also, check out the Paro website.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 6/21/2010)

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