Wednesday, January 03, 2018 by Frances Bloomfield
Are robotic cats set to become the next big thing in elderly care? Scientists from Brown University seem to think so. In collaboration with toymaker giant Hasbro, the team is working on imbuing the company’s line of “Joy for All” robotic cat toys with artificial intelligence. Through this, the team hopes to transform the toys from simple playthings to basic personal assistants that can carry out such tasks as reminding senior citizens to take their medication or inform them where they’ve placed their glasses.
This is all part and parcel of an endeavor dubbed the Affordable Robotic Intelligence for Elderly Support (ARIES) project, reported DailyMail.co.uk. Researchers involved in the project are aiming to combine the usefulness of a computer assistant and the companionship of a pet, without the strenuous requirements of a living cat. As is, the Joy for All cats meow, purr, respond to petting, and can even roll over onto their backs to ask for belly rubs — giving them the ability to communicate reminders makes them better.
Just how the cats would relay important information is one thing the researchers are attempting to fix. Michael Littman, a computer scientist who is part of the ARIES project, has stated to Sci-Tech-Today.com that they don’t want a talking cat, as cats are incapable of human speech and a talking cat might upset some elderly persons. Littman and his colleagues are looking into having the cat making head movements to get what it needs to say across.
Regardless of how they’ll relay suggestions, the ARIES project’s robotic cats have been getting nothing but positive feedback. Dr. Diane Feeney Mahoney, professor emerita at MGH Institute of Health Professions School of Nursing, is one of the people who has praised the project and took note of its potential uses. In addition to making it easier to care for someone with dementia, the robotic cats could also be utilized in nursing homes where pets aren’t usually allowed to stay.
Despite its promise, the ARIES project team has stressed that their robotic cats will only help with small tasks. “It’s not going to iron and wash dishes,” said project scientist Professor Bertram Malle. “Nobody expects them to have a conversation. Nobody expects them to move around and fetch a newspaper. They’re really good at providing comfort.”
The latter is especially helpful, as depression and loneliness are very common among members of the elderly age group. According to AgingCare.com, as many as 18 percent of American senior citizens live by themselves, while 43 percent struggle with feelings of loneliness on a regular basis. Moreover, loneliness often compels senior citizens to push away people and close themselves off from other people. (Related: A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood: Depression & the Elderly)
“The cat doesn’t do things on its own. It needs the human, and the human gets something back. That interaction is a huge step up. Loneliness and uselessness feelings are hugely problematic,” explained Malle.
As of writing, there is no set price for the robotic cats just yet. However, the researchers have said that they plan on keeping the cats reasonable at just “a few hundred dollars.” The Joy for All cats cost around $100, at the moment.
Remain updated on any up-and-coming news regarding the ARIES project by going to VirtualReality.news today.