Robots may substitute live dogs for therapy. Robotic animals may be a ‘pawfect’ substitute for our real-life furry mates, recent research has been discovered. In certain cases, the study finds that biomimetic robotics can be an effective substitute. Animals, particularly dogs, can have therapeutic effects for children and young adults. A recent paper released in The International Journal of Social Robotics finds that the robotic animal ‘MiRo-E’ could be almost as successful and could also be a safer solution.
Dr. Leanne Proops of the Department of Psychology, who oversaw the research, said: “We know that actual dogs will provide children with soothing and pleasant interactions-enhancing their sense of well-being, increasing morale and mitigating tension.
Biomimetic robot dogs may be just as effective as therapy dogs for some people. New research published by the University of Portsmouth has highlighted the benefits of robotic therapy dogs for people with allergies.
“This preliminary study has found that biomimetic robots — robots that mimic animal behaviors — may be a suitable replacement in certain situations and there are some benefits to using them over a real dog.”
Dogs are the most widely used species for rehabilitation due to their teaching potential and naturally social disposition. However, there are questions about having them in an environment of children due to the possibility of causing asthma or spreading viruses, and certain people do not like puppies, so they will not feel relaxed in the company of a true therapy dog.
Robots could replace real therapy dogs
Olivia Barber, who has a therapy dog herself and is the first author of the article, said: “Although lots of people in schools and hospitals benefit greatly from receiving visits from a therapy dog, we have to be mindful of the welfare of the therapy dog. Visits can be stressful and incredibly tiring for therapy dogs, meaning that we should be exploring whether using a robotic animal is feasible.”
There are lots of positives to using a robotic animal over a therapy dog. They can be thoroughly cleaned and can work for longer periods of time. They can also be incredibly lifelike, mirroring the movements and behavior of a real animal, such as wagging their tails to show excitement, expressing “emotions” through sounds and color, turning their ears towards sounds, and even going to sleep.
A study of the children found that the children wanted to have a session with the live puppy. However, overall happiness was high, and after contact with the robot, the children showed more positive emotions. Researchers used live dogs and a biomimetic robot at the mainstream high school in West Sussex to communicate with 34 children aged 11-12.
Two real-life service dogs included a three-year-old Jack Russell with a Poodle and a 12-year-old Labrador-retriever with Cats as Therapy. The robot was a biomimetic MiRo-E robot developed by Consequential Robotics. The more children assign emotional states and sentience to the dog and the computer, the more they liked the lessons, the researchers said.
The children were asked to complete a questionnaire about their views and behaviors towards dogs and robots before taking part in two separate free-play sessions, one with a real-life dog and one with a robot. Researchers observed that children spend a comparable amount of time stroking both the real-life dog and the robot, but spent more time engaging with the robot.
While the children indicated that they favored a session with the live dog slightly, overall enjoyment was high and they actually showed more optimistic emotions after contact with the robot. The further children assign emotional states and sentience to the dog and the robot, the more they love the sessions.
Dr Proops said, “This is a small-scale study, but the results show that interactive robotic animals could be used as a good comparison to live dogs in research, and a useful alternative to traditional animal therapy.”