Robot baby seals to replace pets in hospitals
The Canadian Press
Published Monday, January 12, 2009 8:10AM EST
LAS VEGAS - Just like a real one, this baby seal looks cuddly and cute but has no appetite for fish.
It's a stuffed, plush robot that can replace cats and dogs as pets in hospitals and nursing homes, and in Japan it's even used as a substitute pet.
Called Paro, it bats its eyes when its face is stroked and was on display at the annual Consumer Electronics Show, which ended Sunday.
"His whole body is covered by tactile senses so Paro feels your touch and your stroking," said its inventor, Takanori Shibata of Japan's National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology.
Shibata said it's modeled after baby harp seals that he saw in Canada and recorded their cries to be used in the seal robot.
So why a seal?
Cats and dogs weren't considered as therapeutic robots because Shibata said people get tired of these domestic animals and "become critical" of them. They find more novelty in seals, animals they don't regularly see, he said.
The robotic seal also has artificial intelligence and can remember how it was treated, encouraging its owner to caress it again, but it has a "kind of a sad cry, a negative reaction" if it's hit or mistreated, said Shibata.
"Paro changes his character depending on the interaction with the owner," he said as he stroked the robotic seal whose cry was a cross between a bark and whimper.
The robotic baby seal is used in animal therapy and social rehabilitation for those who can't take care of real animals and in institutions where they aren't allowed, Shibata said.
Its artificial intelligence also allows it to gradually recognize its name.
Shibata said Paro will soon be available in the United States for US$6,000 and he believes the investment is cheaper than keeping a cat or a dog for a decade.
In other robotics at the giant tech show, a human-sized robot with no arms on two wheels was zipping around looking like it was just taken off an alien spaceship.
The idea is to allow this humanoid to be in places such as manufacturing plants or offices where a company member can't be. It's controlled by computer and allows the user to talk and listen and to be seen on a small screen on the robot's chest.
Its gender, however, seemed confusing to people.
"It's not a woman," said Stephanie Holdermann, who was demonstrating how it's used and also boldly soliciting investors to bring down the cost of the $30,000 robot.
"It's an 'it.' It doesn't really have a gender."
And for those who don't like lifting the lid on the kitchen garbage can, there was a touchless trash can that opened and closed automatically. However, consumers will still have to take out their own trash.
The Consumer Electronics Show wrapped up this year with Internet-ready TVs, 3-D technology and small laptops called netbooks as mainstays of the tech fest.
The electronics show was on at the same time as an adult entertainment industry trade show, which attracted probably just as much attention due to less buzz about hot products at CES.
San Franciso-area blogger Dave Cowl said he checked out the porn show for professional purposes. He blogs for Blu-raystats.com and noted there are 200 to 300 adult titles out in Blu-ray high definition.
"Since we are here and they are here," he said of the porn show, "it's worth checking out what they are doing and seeing what they think of high-definition."