Photo Source: Photozou
Many people can simply close their eyes, and they can see the face of a favorite pet either past or present. That memory brings joy and love to one’s heart. We do love our pets to bits. On the other hand, the crushing loss of the family dog or cat causes intense pain. Last year we lost our little rat terrier, Arthur, to a stroke. As I stood with him during the euthanasia process at the veterinary hospital, my heart broke, and at the same time, filled with love as I remembered all the fun and affection we shared in his life. Such a powerful bond between humans and their pets shows in that people often mourn more intensely the loss of a pet than of another person.
Pets not only bring joy to our lives, but they have demonstrated health benefits. According to the National Institute of Health’s News in Health article titled, “Health Benefits of Human-Animal Interactions” research supports the claim that animals improve our health. The article states, “Interacting with animals has been shown to decrease levels of cortisol (a stress-related hormone) and lower blood pressure. Other studies have found that animals can reduce loneliness, increase feelings of social support, and boost your mood.” Additionally, caring for pets helps children develop socially and in one study helped teens with type 1 diabetes better manage their insulin.
With the joy and health benefits of pets well known, it may still come as a surprise that many companies and research groups continue to develop robotic pets that can be used when live pets may not be possible or practical. Sony Corporation recently released a highly upgraded version of their robot dog, Aibo, that retails for around $2,900. Aibo comes loaded with touch sensors that allow it to respond to being pet. It has cameras that allow it to recognize its family’s faces as well as microphones to identify its owners’ voices and commands with the help of artificial intelligence. A video of Aibo from The Verge (shown below) shows an adorable little grey robot dog with dark ears and very expressive blue OLED eyes, cute bark, and realistic motions, including crouching, wagging a tail, and walking around. The artificial intelligence allows the dog to learn new tricks over time too. Other robot dogs continue to hit the market such as Zoomer Zuppies smart dog that has LED eyes that will changes into shapes like hearts to show affection for its owners.
The question remains whether robot pets can replace biological pets as companions and even bring the demonstrated health benefits of that animals to bring to humans. Intelligent System Co., Ltd. of Japan, has marketed an advanced interactive robotic baby harp seal called PARO since. PARO responds to physical, verbal, light, posture and temperature stimuli with sounds, movements and facial expressions to communicate if it is content, happy, sad, or uncomfortable. The robot will let you know if it is satisfied with the sounds of contentment and happy facial expressions. PARO will also make unhappy noises when pet too hard, or it is cold. Research with PARO in New Zealand published in the Journal of Post-Acute and Long-Term Care Medicine titled “The Psychosocial Effects of a Companion Robot: A Randomized Controlled Trial,” demonstrated a decrease in loneliness among people who had PARO over those who did not have PARO. Other studies were less conclusive. It remains to be seen whether humans will bond more strongly with robot pets as the technology improves over time to make the robots more lifelike. Robots do not face the same mortality that animals do, and maybe the connection between living creatures with the specter of mortality forms a bond that cannot be replicated with a machine.
Dr. Smith’s career in scientific and information research spans the areas of bioinformatics, artificial intelligence, toxicology, and chemistry. He has published a number of peer-reviewed scientific papers. He has worked over the past seventeen years developing advanced analytics, machine learning, and knowledge management tools to enable research and support high level decision making. Tim completed his Ph.D. in Toxicology at Cornell University and a Bachelor of Science in chemistry from the University of Washington.
You can buy his book on Amazon in paperback and in kindle format here.