The field of robotics has evolved quite a lot over the past decade, the direct (and visible) results being the appearance of all sorts of mechanical contraptions, some of which manage to mimic real-life beings to quite an impressive degree, as is the case with the PARO baby-seal robot, developed by Japanese company AIST, a leading Japanese industrial automation pioneer.
The PARO robot that will be showcased at CES 2011 actually represents the 8'th generation of a design that has been in use in Japan and throughout Europe since 2003, and that has gone through some serious upgrade processes in the past time.
The device 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 (that's why we called “therapeutic” right from the start).
Early results, obtained with the robot's previous iterations, are quite impressive, as the Paro has been found to reduce patient stress and their caregivers, while also stimulating interaction between patients and caregivers.
Plus, the Paro has been shown to have a psychological effect on patients, improving thier relaxation and motivation, while also improving the socialization of patients with each other and with caregivers.
According to AIST, the Paro has five kinds of sensors: tactile, light, audition, temperature, and posture sensors, with which it can perceive people and its environment.
With the light sensor, Paro can recognize light and dark, while also being able to “feel” being stroked and beaten by tactile sensor, or being held by the posture sensor.
Paro can also recognize the direction of voice and words such as its name, greetings, and praise with its audio sensor.
Plus, the robot can learn to behave in a way that the user prefers, and to respond to its new name.
For example, if you stroke it every time you touch it, Paro will remember your previous action and try to repeat that action to be stroked.
If you hit it, Paro remembers its previous action and tries not to do that action.
By interaction with people, Paro responds as if it is alive, moving its head and legs, making sounds, and showing your preferred behavior, not to mention that the Paro also imitates the voice of a real baby harp seal.
The Paro robot sells for around 5,000 US dollars, which is, in fact, a pretty high price, but then again, in this particular case, the benefits might actually outweigh the costs.