Just like its real-life counterparts Paro is a plump, cute and fluffy seal, with endearing eyes which appear to show emotions from happiness to anger, whilst communicating with pup-like sounds.
But that’s where the similarities end because Paro is actually a Japanese-invented robot and now researchers at the University of Sheffield are using the device to see how people with little or no experience of robotics are interacting with them.
University of Sheffield Psychology PhD student Emily Collins, who is working on the project, has been training the Paro robot to react to his own name, whilst straight from the box the robot already understands greetings and compliments. The seal responds with calls and moving facial expressions.
Emily explained that previously the device has been used in research with older adults who suffer from dementia. Paro offers pet therapy but unlike real pets which require constant care and are not always willing to be handled the benefits of a robotic animal like Paro is they are always willing to be cuddled.
“When used as intended, robotic devices can be a helpful and positive addition to many sectors,” said Emily, whose PhD research project is expected to end in early 2016.
“It is important to note that the application of robots in elderly care should be seen as complementary to existing practices. Robots have the potential to be accessible, low cost tools for caregivers to use, complementing existing tools by improving and extending care- giving options.
“I envisage situations in which robotic pets are used as facilitators for more contact between caregivers and the people they are caring for.”
In Japan Paro is used in nursing homes and hospitals to act as a companion.