Question: What do we and former Japan Prime Minister Koizumi have in common?
Answer: Except for the obvious observation that we held the same the “Mental Commitment Robot” named “Paro,” none. 😀
Of course, there are dozens of these babies, and it’s quite unlikely that we held exactly the same Paro unit as PM Koizumi did, but can you tell the difference? 😛
Who or what is Paro, actually?
As I already mentioned, Paro, which is actually a nickname for “Pa-sonaru Robotto” (Personal Robot), is a “Mental Commitment Robot.” Paro, designed after a baby harp seal, is a stuffed animal robot and was developed by Dr. Takanori Shibata of AIST. According to the information found in the AIST website:
Since ancient times, animals have always played a role in man’s life. Although the merits of animal therapy are positively recognized in the areas of medical care and welfare, there are difficulties to introduce this form of therapy at hospitals and nursing homes for fear of the associated problems such as allergy, zoonotic infections, biting, scratching etc. Additionally, it is also difficult for those who live alone to take care of pets. It is often forbidden to raise animals in housing complexes. Under such circumstances, Paro was developed in order to meet the demands for a robot pet which can coexist with humans.
This white-haired “Paro” is modeled after a baby harp seal. Seals are not so common in daily life and thus the robot would not draw upon too much of a comparison with real life seals. Paro is the world’s first “Mental Commitment Robot” and gives pleasure and comfort to humans through interaction.
Since 2000, Paro has been a great success in a series of demonstration experiments concerning robot therapy which have been implemented at the pediatric ward of Tsukuba University Hospital, adult day-care centers and nursing care facilities. Moreover, with the aim of improving robot-assisted therapy, further improvements have been made to Paro, leading to the completion of the 7th generation Paro.
Paro has received widespread acclaim not only in Japan but also in Britain, Norway, Italy, UAE, Korea, Australia and the U.S., among others. The exhibit of “Paro and Robot Therapy” has started at the National Museum of Science and Technology in Sweden in May 2003 and is attracting increasing attention. The exhibit will continue for the next three years.
This furry robot has already claimed a Guiness World Record. I’ve already seen pictures of Paro in newspapers and magazines, but I didn’t realize how cute and cuddly it was until I held it in my arms. 😉 It opened and closed its eyes and “cried” out with a sound that was a cross between a puppy crying and a cat meowing. Okay, I made that up. Feel free to make your own conclusion if you get the chance. Apparently, Paro imitates the voice of a real baby harp seal.
Here are some more interesting information about Paro:
Paro has a diurnal rhythm of morning, daytime, and night. For example, Paro is active during the daytime, but gets sleepy at night. Paro has five kinds of sensors: tactile, light, audition, temperature, and posture sensors, with which it can perceive people and its environment. With the light sensor, Paro can recognize light and dark. He feels being stroked and beaten by tactile sensor, or being held by the posture sensor. Paro can also recognize the direction of voice and words such as its name, greetings, and praise with its audio sensor. Paro can learn to behave in a way that the user prefers, and to respond to its new name. For example, if you stroke it every time you touch it, Paro will remember your previous action and try to repeat that action to be stroked. If you hit it, Paro remembers its previous action and tries not to do that action. By interaction with people, Paro responds as if it is alive, moving its head and legs, making sounds, and showing your preferred behavior.
According to the CNN article, Paro is expected to cost between $2,500 and $3,000. That’s some expensive pet therapy. But considering how much more expensive high-breed pets like dogs or cats are here in Japan, that amount would be pretty reasonable, given the therapeutic benefits for patients. Paro robots are made by hand, and no two robots look alike!
Want to see Paro? Drop by Science Square Tsukuba. Open from 9:30 am to 5 pm, closed on Mondays and holidays. Admission is free! And get the chance to view other AIST-related scientific exhibits as well.
***All photos are original photos by the author except for the one with PM Koizumi (source: AIST website).