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Practical Techie: The emergence of robotic pets as service animals

Animals, especially dogs, have therapeutic benefits for children or older folks in a condition of infirmity or shut in. But not everyone can own and maintain a cute tail-wagger. High-tech options exist. Once an expensive novelty, now Robo-pets are fast becoming a viable option for therapy programs and maybe even a more convenient preference for traditional pet owners who wish to sidestep the hassles of owning real-life furry friends.

These advanced mechanical dogs, cats, and seals mimic the genuine article’s behaviors and are an effective part of therapy programs in many countries. No dander, allergies, food, or need to bathe weekly, plus zero expensive veterinary fees. The Pet Care Robotic Market is predicted to reach $3.65 billion by 2030.

THERAPY – Although most people see robots as cold, unfeeling machines, more and more people use them for companionship and therapy, replacing service dogs. In effect, quadrupedal robots are quickly turning from novelties to commodities. A real pet can provide various health benefits, including reduced blood pressure, cholesterol, and loneliness, to boost exercise and socialization. Studies show that a robot pet can also have the same health benefits as a live one which often cause hygiene problems or become over-stimulated. A robotic dog also promises to teach young kids responsibility, safety.  

REALISM – Mechanical pets must be responsive to humans in five key areas. They need to be designed to seek eye contact actively, remember faces, and even learn how to best respond to a new name. The top lines come with tactile, light, hearing, temperature, and posture sensors. These attributes help the bots perceive people and their environment in a more realistic manner. “Tombot” is a pet therapy robot and the most realistic robotic animal in the market so far. It was created to help bedridden patients, seniors, people diagnosed with dementia, or animal lovers who can’t have a live pet. This site lists the most realistic therapy pets available.

PRICING – Chinese firm Unitree manufactures a  robust-looking four-legged bot that is the least pricey robopet at $2,700. In turn, Boston Dynamics’ futuristic “Spot “robot dog costs $74,500. Tombot’s newest spinoff, a line of “Jennie” robots, will cost $450 when available on the market. Paro, A line of Japanese animal-inspired robots that looks like a white-eyed baby harp seal, runs from $6,000 to $2,400. It is very cute as it is realistic. Other, more sophisticated and very pricey productions are robot animals used in industrial inspections and police or military reconnaissance.

DISBELIEF — Animal lovers say it’s best to have nothing than to own a robot pet. No matter how realistic, it’s still a fake. They also refer to ethical issues associated with replacing emotional bonding between living beings and service animals with mechanical mascots. They say humans showers a live animal with love, yummy food, cuddles, scratches, and pats, and it responds with unconditional love. To belief that a robopet, the opinion goes, can take the place of a beloved animal is just a too condescending fantasy.  

Author Details
Author Rafael Matos is a veteran journalist, a professor of digital narratives and university mentor. He may be contacted at cccrafael@gmail.com.

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