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Therapeutic Robots Paro and Keepon Are Cute But Still Costly

These 'bots are soft, cuddly, and designed to be universally likable, but they don't come cheap.

1 min read

Erico Guizzo is IEEE Spectrum's Digital Innovation Director.

Spectrum editor and producer Josh Romero just posted this entertaining video, "The Invasion of Cute, Therapeutic Robots," on two robots that are, well, cute and therapeutic. They are Paro, a robotic seal used to treat elderly patients with dementia, and Keepon, a yellow, rubbery robot that researchers have used to interact with autistic children.

It's amazing to see how much technology goes into these little creatures.

I wrote a story about Paro early this year. The robot, invented by Takanori Shibata, a researcher at Japan’s National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, uses two 32-bit RISC processors, custom actuators, and a host of sound, light, temperature, and touch sensors. It also has some AI capabilities -- it learns its name over time and changes its behavior to maximize its petting opportunities. Oh, and it's got a pacifier-shaped recharger.

Keepon, created by Marek Michalowski, a robotics Phd student at Carnegie Mellon, and Hideki Kozima, currently a professor at Miyagi University, in Japan, uses two video cameras (eyes) and a microphone (nose) as sensors, and four motors are embedded on its base. It can be tele-operated by a therapist in another room, but can also run in an autonomous mode, bouncing along to music or sounds. The idea is researchers can monitor, track, and record the children's improvement.

Still, there's room for improvement in at least one area: their price tags. Josh reports.


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