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Robotic pets seem to have become all the rage. It’s no surprise, because these robot companions might just be the perfect surprise for frustrated pet owners who are unable to keep up with the demands of the real thing. Having a pet is certainly an irreplaceable feeling, but these robot friends offer a unique experience that is just as valuable.
Pet ownership is one of the most fulfilling things one could experience. Having a pet at home can decrease depression, stress levels, and provide joy. Cats and dogs can also make life more exciting for their respective owners, as each day is different when you’re taking care of a pet.
That’s how pet therapy came to be: researchers found that pets can decrease feelings of loneliness and significantly improve the physical health of elderly people with Alzheimer’s disease. Many children who suffer from mental and physical disorders have also been given pets as part of their treatment programs. In many places, live pets are staples in nursing homes and hospitals.
Sadly, not everyone can afford to take care of a real animal. Older adults, especially, may struggle to keep up with the demands of live animals. That’s where robotic pets enter the picture.
Much like real pets, one of the biggest benefits of robotic pets is their ability to provide companionship for people who might be socially isolated. Research shows that individuals who struggle with mental and physical disorders have significantly improved in mood and behavior after interacting with robot pets.
The key lies in the interactive features of the robot pet. Real-life therapy dogs socialize with their humans, and while a robotic dog has its drawbacks, it is also designed to respond to humans much like a live pet would. These robotic dogs are designed to wag their tail, move their paws, and even bark in response to voice commands. Some are also covered in soft cuddly fur like a real puppy.
At the forefront of robotic pet technology are the more advanced companion pets that mimic real dogs to a tee. These robots are often programmed with artificial intelligence, making their movements, facial expressions, and responses more realistic. Their interaction not only helps decrease loneliness in patients, but also provides mental stimulation. However, most of them are incredibly expensive.
Research shows having a robotic pet around provides much of the same benefits as real pet animals, including reduced blood pressure and improved mental health. Therapeutic robot pets, in many cases, have elicited pleasurable responses from patients living with dementia.
Both robot cats and dogs have been used to provide patients company after being socially isolated, but studies are yet to be done on whether one animal is more effective than the other.
A study from a Griffith University professor shows the benefits of Paro the robot seal in calming agitated patients, one of the most difficult symptoms of dementia to treat. Researchers speculate that this could be due to seals being a more neutral animal compared to a cat or dog, meaning there’s less chance they have associated negative memories with them.
If you have loved ones living in a retirement home, it’s possible that letting them take care of a robot dog or cat can ease anxiety and depression. In a project conducted using Ageless Innovation robots, families reported improved mood and communication from their loved ones after spending time taking care of a robotic pet.
Their benefits are clear, but the question still stands: can robots replace real pets? The answer may vary. For those who have experienced and cherished having a living dog in their lifetime, robot pets might fall short as a substitute.
However, for those who need a loving companion around to listen or interact with, a robot pet still provides a sense of comfort and joy. In patients with more severe mental decline, it is unclear whether patients recognize these robots as robots or think they’re living beings.
Robot pets are also much easier to take care of. Compared to real pets, especially dogs, these robot toys require little maintenance. They don’t need food, training, walking, nor will they poop or pee in inappropriate places.
There’s more than anecdotal evidence to support the use of these robotic pets in animal-assisted therapy. A study published in the International Journal of Social Robotics found that MiRo-E, the robotic animal, could be as effective as a substitute pet for children and older adults.
With the never-ending development in this field, robot pets might be the future of high-end pet therapy all over the world.