This Robot Seal Is Just What the Doctor Ordered Intelligent System Co., Ltd. IP

Website: Intelligent System Co., Ltd.external link
Category: Machinery

Pick up Intelligent System's PARO and you'll quickly understand the healing power that this therapeutic robot can share

For patients who have a great deal of difficulty communicating with or connecting to others, it can often feel like being trapped. To help these people, Intelligent System Co., Ltd. has been continuing development on a therapeutic robot that brings a sense of peace and well-being through the power of touch.

Say hello to PARO, courtesy of Intelligent System Co., Ltd.

When thinking about ways to reach autistic children, elderly dementia patients, or those suffering from cancer, your first image will probably not be that of an animatronic pinniped. But PARO the robot seal will make you reconsider your ideas about the healing power that inorganic objects can have.

Designed by Dr. Takanori Shibata, CTO of Intelligent System, PARO has been in development for more than a decade, and he's in his ninth generation. It is about the size of a baby, and weighs 2.5 kg (5.6 pounds). When switched on, he comes to life, opening and closing his eyes, raising his head, and wriggling his tail. It can recognize approximately 50 words, has sensors that allow it to recognize differences between day and night, when it is being picked up. Shibata explains that PARO is protected under several different patents and copyrights, including those that protects its artificial intelligence algorithms and overall design.

Studying PARO’s influence on brainwaves, courtesy of AIST (Advanced Industrial Science and Technology), Japan.

More Than a Robot at Heart

Powering the robot is a sophisticated set of artificial intelligence algorithms that allow PARO to interact with its keeper, recognize when it has been given a new name, and generally make itself all the more appreciated by its owner. As Shibata explains, it can be set to function in different modes: for example, one is a basic “pet” function, and another is for dementia patients. As Shibata explains, these settings can make quite a difference. Take the case of “hitting” PARO if it does something that the owner doesn't like: “the default mode for PARO is to cry out if it is struck by its owner. However, many dementia patients or autistic people would not always have complete control of their actions or emotions, and if PARO were to cry out in front of a dementia patient, it might cause the patient to become even more agitated. In this case, it is most important to maintain that contact and interaction.”

PARO is also no stranger to the limelight. Since 2003, PARO has been covered in papers like The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, and even had the opportunity to greet President Obama while he was in Japan for the APEC 2010 Summit.

A Healing Touch for the World

PARO is registered as a “neurological therapeutic medical device” (class II) by the US FDA(Food and Drug Administration), and is classified similarly in other countries as well. It is being used with patients who have Down’s Syndrome, autistic children, and cancer patients. Studies around the world show indicate that PARO can significantly reduce anxiety, anger, and feelings of isolation for patients who use it. Shibata hopes that PARO can eventually be covered under health insurance programs around the world, in some cases cutting down the need for psychotropic medications.

PARO is being sold in 30 countries around the world, and Shibata believes in can play a small role in a global health crisis: “In the world, there are more than 44 million people who suffer from dementia. The total costs for medical and welfare service, including their family costs $600 billion a year. If PARO can reduce that by 5 percent, it would make a huge difference.”

Based on interview in February 2016

Intelligent System Co., Ltd. CTO, Takanori Shibata