In nursing homes throughout Japan, an interactive, therapeutic robot is helping provide care to elderly residents. The robot’s name is Paro, and it looks like a baby harp seal, complete with fur, soulful eyes, and even whiskers. The technology inside Paro, which costs about US$3,800, is relatively simple: five sensors that pick up on touch, light, sound, heat, and posture. From that input, Paro recognizes people and their environment, and an AI component helps the device adapt to the preferences of its user. If you stroke Paro, it coos back at you, and it can learn over time to repeat the behaviors that led you to stroke it.
The idea of getting healthcare from a robot may seem to be the stuff of science fiction, but Paro is effective in calming elderly people with dementia and other cognitive disorders. A recent study found that loneliness rates decreased in a test