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Grandma’s New Friend Is Wired

By Ravn, Karen; Los Angeles Times,
Publication Date: October 17, 2011

Article discusses the use of animal-like robotic devices as companions to the elderly. Paro, a robot designed to resemble a baby harp seal, is described as cute and cuddly with soft, white fur and big, bright eyes. Designated as a Class II medical device by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Paro is built to behave as if it were a sentient being. The robot is capable of “learning” the name it is given and responds to the way it is treated, for example, acting happy when it is being petted. Paro was developed to make a good companion for elderly patients in hospitals and extended care facilities, helping them feel less lonely and anxious. Two studies are cited that showed nursing home residents spent more time in common areas and socialized more when Paro was present, and communicated more and showed stronger ties to each other after spending a year interacting with the robot. Another study compared the effects of seniors interacting with a robotic dog, Aibo, to those of playing with a real dog, showing no statistical difference in the positive results generated. However, critics interviewed for the article caution that the studies were too small to offer anything but suggestive results. And while companion robots for the elderly may fill an important social need, they may not necessarily be the best way, or even an acceptable way, to do that.
Published by: Tribune Company   (Website:

Link to text:,0,7812744,full.story

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