The PARO Therapeutic Robot was named the “World’s Most Therapeutic Robot” by the Guinness World Records organization, and it’s being featured during National Robotics Week at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago.
PARO looks, feels and sounds like a baby harp seal. If you pet it, it coos. If you hug too tight, it cries. It’s programed to look lovingly into a patient’s eyes and blinks it’s long eyelashes. It can follow the direction of a person’s voice and will turn it’s head to look in the direction a person is speaking.
With dementia a patient may not have control of their voice or body. They can disappear inside their mind and it’s difficult for caregivers to draw them out into the world around them. Videos demonstrate PARO’s ability to draw a patient out of themselves so that they begin to pet it, hug it, and ultimately smile.
“With dementia, you’re never quite sure what they’ll connect with,” says Alice Amro, a Certified Robot Therapist with Passages Palliative Care. “We try a lot of different techniques.”
Underneath PARO’s antibacterial fur is over 30 sensors that measure sound, light, touch, temperature, and position. It responds to all those things much the same way a loving animal would. It is adorably charged by plugging a power cable that looks like a pacifier into it’s cute little mouth.
Research has found PARO to be effective in reducing patient stress, stimulating interaction between patients and caregivers, improving relaxation, motivation, and socialization.
It isn’t difficult to understand how PARO works. According to Professor Wendy Moyle of Griffith University, who is doing research on the effectiveness of robotic animals, PARO has a similar mood-lifting effect on academics who encounter the robot at conferences:
“I have been in situations in my university and at conferences where academics will pick up the Paro and talk with it as though it is a human form. Even as adults we enjoy play and Paro offers this opportunity in a comforting way.” Professor Moyle said in an interview with News Medical.
Designed and developed by the AIST in Japan, PARO is certified for therapeutic use in the U.S. by the FDA as a “biofeedback medical device.” PARO sells for just under $5000.