A cute and cuddly robot seal could be the ideal friend for elderly people, according to researchers at Sheffield University.
Paro is an artificial version of a plump fluffy Harp seal pup, with endearing eyes which appear to show emotions from happiness to anger – and which even purrs when stroked.
The robot comes from Japan, where similar models have been used in research with older people who have dementia.
Psychology graduate student Emily Collins, who is working on the project, has been training the Paro robot to react to his own name, while straight from the box it already understands greetings and compliments. The seal responds with calls and moving facial expressions.
Paro offers therapy like support dogs and, unlike real pets which require constant care and are not always willing to be handled, it is always willing to be cuddled.
“When used as intended, robotic devices can be a helpful and positive addition to many sectors,” said Emily, who is committed to the project until 2016.
“Robots in elderly care should be seen as complementary to existing practices. They have the potential to be accessible, low cost tools for caregivers to use.”