Robots as Pets: can they provide the same benefits as living pets?

Image by Jacques GAIMARD from Pixabay


People have owned pets for thousands of years, mainly for emotional support and companionship. However, these aren’t the only benefits that pets provide. According to a number of studies, they also provide health benefits. For example, pets are quite playful. This means that pet owners have to play with them. In the process, pet owners also get the chance to exercise and socialize. Also, studies show that pets can help lower cholesterol levels.


This brings us to the subject of robot pets. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that robot pets are being invented in this tech age when bots are becoming increasingly popular. For example, there’s the companion pet pup and a pet cat by Joy for All, a toy company owned by Hasbro. Hansa Creations has also invented pet cats and dogs that have the ability to interact with people. Also, there’s the pet seal by the National of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (Japan).


Such inventions have been done with the aim of providing companionship and emotional support, especially to children and the elderly. This brings us to the purpose of this article. We’ll talk about some of the reasons why pet robots have been invented. To this end, we’ll look into a couple of research studies. We’ll attempt to prove whether pet robots can really provide health benefits to children and the elderly as suggested above.


Benefits to Children

The University of Washington and Purdue University conducted a study on seventy two children, aged seven to fifteen. The study aimed to find out how children interact with both robot and living dogs. These children were studied as they interacted with Aibo, a robot dog created by Sony, and two living dogs. The results found were promising. However, some limitations were also discovered. 


In terms of positive results, it was found that children perceived robot dogs in the same way as living dogs – as great companions. However, the study also found a limitation. The robot dog couldn’t interact as well as the living dog. The researchers concluded that it’s not certain that robot pets can completely replace living dogs. Therefore, we need to be cautious when assigning them to the elderly in assisted living.


Benefits to the Elderly

A team of researchers at the University of Auckland, NZ, conducted a twelve-week study to find out how robot pets can benefit the elderly. To this end, 40 seniors were selected from a retirement home. They were divided into two groups of twenty each. The first group was studied interacting with a robot seal named Paro. The other group was sent out of the retirement home every week to participate in interactive activities like bingo and arts.


This study found that the group of seniors that interacted with Paro became less lonely. This wasn’t the case with the second group. The other group of seniors that participated in other interactive activities away from the retirement home became lonelier. Also, a living dog was brought to the home every day so that the seniors can interact with it. It was observed that these seniors were more interactive when it came to Paro as compared to the living dog.


Another study done in 2008 found that robot dogs are great companions for the elderly in assisted living. They helped in reducing loneliness. The study also found that the elderly can be highly attached to both robot and living dogs. Therefore, these two provide similar benefits. On the other hand, some of the participants preferred the robot dogs because they are easier to maintain. For example, they can be left home alone in case their owners get admitted in the hospital.


The world’s elderly population is growing

According to the National Institutes of Health, it’s estimated that by 2050, the world’s population of the elderly over the age of sixty five years will increase to about seventeen percent. This implies that the need for pets which provide emotional support and companionship will increase.  


Ted Fischer, the business development VP at Hasbro, says that people were originally buying robot pets for their children. However, lately, they’ve been buying them for their elderly parents for companionship. Such reports are promising – that these pets are bringing great joy to the elderly.


There are also some studies which have attempted to find out whether these pets have the same impact on children. As we’ve briefly discussed above, children have positively responded to them, despite there being some limitations.


In conclusion, robot pets are a great idea that needs to be further explored scientifically. And when we consider the physical and social needs of living pets, maybe robot pets are a better alternative. The world is also becoming more and more receptive to robotics, and robots are now being used in our day-to-day lives. Therefore, we believe that, even though more scientific research needs to be conducted in this subject, the future is promising for robot pets.


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