Benefits of Robot Cat
She meows, purrs and hugs the hand she caresses. She doesn’t care how firm or tender the writing is. Because the “Hasbro Companion Cat” is a robot. And made exclusively to keep lonely seniors company.
The cat robot from the toy manufacturer Hasbro reacts to crawling, stroking and movement through its sensors on the head, stomach and back. The fur of the robot cat is made of imitation fur and should feel like authentic cat fur. If you stroke the head and back of the robot kitten, it starts to purr. If you touch it on the left cheek, it nestles your head in your hand. And if you paw the little robot long enough, it will even roll onto its back.
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Hasbro recommends its Companion Pets as a gift for older people who are no longer able to care for a real animal. It is completely different from what a real cat would do, and the battery-operated kitten automatically goes into standby mode if it is ignored for a long time. If you want your kitten a little quieter, you can switch it to “Mute” with a switch on the stomach. Of course, you don’t have to feed the robot cat, and a litter box is redundant.
Hasbro advertises the easy-care cat robot as “give consolation, company and joy”. But can a toy with fluffy faux fur and intelligent sensors entertain older people and bring them joy? And don’t we insult seniors in their dignity if we leave that to a soulless object because we don’t have the time or the desire to look after ourselves?
Robots as caregivers may seem grotesque, but they are already real. In particular, in the care sector, it has long been known that dealing with animals makes patients happy and calms them. Dogs, horses and even dolphins or llamas – various animal-assisted therapies use positive effects on sick, old or disabled people. But animal therapy is expensive and time-consuming – and even the cats in the nursing home do not always want to be petted.
The Japanese therapy seal Paro is less characteristic. Paro is a personal robot that should be used where real animals are not possible. The fluffy robotic seal is already entertaining patients in Switzerland. For Margrit Lüscher, managing director of the Bruggwiesen retirement centre in Effretikon, the robot cannot replace the nursing staff. Still, it can support the care of people with dementia, as they did in an interview with the Tagesanzeigerstressed. Lüscher does not find it problematic that the animal is only played for by the robot. “It doesn’t depend on real or fake. It depends on what people perceive,” she says. Paro moves his head, eyes and tail when he is petted. Its sensors react to light, temperature and noise, and it makes seal noises.
Paro costs 60 times as much as Hasbro’s robotic cat. Because Paro is capable of learning, if he is petted, he remembers the behaviour that led to it. If he is beaten, he will avoid behaving like this again in the future, just as we expect from real pets. Patients can give their seal a name that the robot will respond to. Each seal Robo adapts its behaviour to its environment and thus achieves something like an individual character. That sounds creepy, but it helps the patients to develop a relationship with the robot.
A human-robot relationship – should something like that scare us? Do we want a world where we understand robots as surrogate living beings and begin to replace human relationships with robots?
We can reassure ourselves that the robot is not the first soulless object with which humans develop relationships. Almost every child has a favourite cuddly toy that makes them happy for a long time, that gives them comfort and makes them survive every visit to the doctor. The cuddly toy does not replace its mom, just as a cuddly robot cannot completely replace human caregivers.
As long as it holidays that way, we don’t have to fear the robotic cat. We should still think twice about whether we want to put them under the Christmas tree for our grandparents.
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