AI-based “social robots,” especially robo-dogs, are captivating their owners and becoming a part of their lives. Increasingly smarter and more emotionally responsive versions of robots resembling pets are being developed. An expert in this field, neuroscientist Julie Robillard, has said that robotic experts are trying to improve human-robot relationships by building life mimicking robots. Soon, AI-based bots will be viewed more like friends than just machines.
Why adopt a robot pet?
The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a severe toll on the mental health of the general public. Lockdown and travel restrictions have led to an increasing feeling of loneliness. AI-based chatbots have already been used for therapy purposes, but life-like intelligent robots provide a much better social connection. Electronic dogs such as Aibo can provide their owner with a comforting feeling during stressful times. Their AI-driven personality is able to adapt to the whims and habits of its owner, creating a personal emotional relationship associated with a beloved pet.
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Pets, especially dogs, have a health effect on children by reducing their stress and increasing their motivation and mental wellness. Certain schools have already adopted cybernetic dogs such as Lovot, and it has encouraged kids to take care of things and be kinder to one another. For kids who love dogs but are allergic to them, AI-based robo-dogs can be an excellent option. A small scale study has shown that an interactive robot dog can have similar positive influences on a child as a live dog. Evidence also supports that social robots can be used to impart social skills to children with autism.
Maintaining a pet dog is not a small ask either; owners need to take proper care of them and give them sufficient exercise to keep them healthy. This is a difficult ask for a person suffering from a serious condition such as cancer. Due to the pandemic, such patients currently lack access to therapy sessions or therapy animals. A robot pet can be beneficial for their mental well-being. A study is presently being conducted to understand the effect of pet robots on people suffering from hearing loss.
The current trend of robotic pets
According to manufacturers and users, the trend of adopting social robots is especially popular in Japan, as people are familiar with friendly androids as depicted in popular tv shows like “Doraemon.” Lovot using emotional robot technology has seen a tremendous increase in demand as sales rose by 11 folds last year! A spokesperson from their developers, GrooveX, said, “Robots are usually hard, cold, and inhuman. But since our bots are built to soothe, we made them warm and soft.”
Japan’s oldest and most successful robot named “Paro” has been welcomed in many aged care homes and have shown to be capable of interacting with a person having dementia much more than a live dog. Other countries are yet to adopt robot pets because of steep costs and lack of availability, even though many developed nations are using robot sniffer dogs for airport security. However, as electronics become cheaper and with the expansion of the robotics industry, the market for AI-based robots both as pets and therapy animals is only going to increase.