Robotic seal pups have been tested for use by the NHS to help dementia patients, following extensive testing of their hygiene. Because the seal pups, known as Paro, are coated in fake fur, they had to undergo some serious testing to make sure bacteria doesn’t pose a health risk between users.
The robots were created by Professor Takanori Shibata, who created the companions to reduce stress and anxiety in patients. The cuddly critters aren’t just soft and furry, encouraging them to be stroked, but they are also embedded with various sensors and artificial intelligence to help with interaction. For example, they can show facial emotion and improve a user’s mood by engaging them in conversation.
Paro learns as it develops a relationship with the patient, responding to the name given to it and being stroked with a wriggle and a friendly squeak.
“There are similarities to pet therapy but Paro does not have the immediate association of a cat or dog and is easier to supervise,” lead researcher Penny Dodds said. “Unlike real pets, Paro always behaves, has rechargeable batteries, is always available – and Paro should last about 12 years. The most important aspect is the improvement Paro makes to a patient’s quality of life.”
Hygiene testing was an important part of deciding whether hospitals and other health environments would be able to offer the seal as a companion to patients.
“To our knowledge, this was the first testing of the infection prevention and control aspects in the world and we are delighted with the results,” . “We have demonstrated that, under controlled conditions, Paro was safe within the hospital setting for an acute care dementia unit. It is hoped that this can allay concerns from those who have been hesitant about using Paro in the NHS.
“It is anticipated that Paro will receive ‘medical devices status’ in the UK shortly and the distributor is preparing Paro for the UK market. We could be seeing Paro on wards throughout the country in the not-too-distant future.”