Who said plush toys are only for little kids? As it turns out, toys like this, with a little fine tuning and engineering can be used for much more than what has been previously taught. Paro is a new robotic seal, which is not a toy, but looks like one. It is a medical therapeutic device developed by a Japanese company with the aim of providing care to patients experiencing stress, dementia, and depression.
Despite it being new technology, Taylor Steinke ’20 from the Bio-Science Center of Excellence has been given the opportunity to use one and conduct her experiment. Borrowing the equipment is a deal as the Paro costs a hefty $6,000. Steinke says, “Dr. LaLiberty thinks the company AIST lent us the Paro because they are interested in my results”. Perhaps the company is interested in finding out if whether interaction with Paro can influence behavior or mood in young people. Most research is currently on the elderly.
As a part of her experiment, Steinke will be conducting ‘two fifteen minute sessions with EEG’s on their heads to look for Alpha waves” The first will be measured while students are coloring and the second students will be playing with Paro. Steinke believes, “Alpha waves will be more abundant in the students that played with Paro”. The alpha waves reflect a relaxed state of mind.
And what makes Paro different from other stuffed animals, you may wonder? Well, it is able to “sense light, touch, and get can get upset with rough handling” says Steinke. Even more exciting, he can also recognize voices and cuddle. Dr. Davies, a clinician, assistant professor and staff psychiatrist at the Center for Addiction and Mental Health explains, “We know pets are good for people. They improve people’s survival rates with certain illnesses, for instance”.
Unlike a real animal, Paro “can be used all day long and you don’t need any specifically trained members of staff” he notes. The only limitation, as Steinke puts it is, “some students might find Paro creepy”.
Apart from all the problems that Paro is helping to solve, he is pioneering efforts for treating recovering addicts, dementia patients, and more. Throughout the world, over a thousand Paros have been sold to nursing homes, hospitals, and private customers alike.