Technology

Scientists Develop Robotic Cat To Assist Seniors

A collaboration between toymaker Hasbro and researchers at Brown University has produced a robotic cat aimed to assist seniors.

Robotic Cat Assist Seniors
Image source: YouTube Video Screenshot

A Robotic Cat

Hasbro and Brown University has recently received a $1 million grant from the National Science Foundation to add artificial intelligence to Hasbro’s new “Joy for All” robotic cat.

The robotic cat isn’t a new creation and has been on the market for two years at this point. The robot is marketed towards seniors and is meant to act as a low maintenance companion. It can currently purr, meow, and even roll over to ask for a belly rub. This new collaboration with Brown University aims to add additional functionality to the cats that will help seniors maintain independence for a longer period of time.

The Brown Humanity-Centered Robotics Initiative is working on determining which of a number of tasks make sense to implement. Some potential opportunities are for the robotic cat to find lost objects, remind seniors to take their medicine, or to provide reminders to call a friend or leave for a doctor’s appointment.

Bertram Malle, a professor of cognitive, linguistic, and psychological sciences at Brown, urged people to keep their expectations in check in an interview with WQAD 8.

“It’s not going to iron and wash dishes…Nobody expects them to have a conversation. Nobody expects them to move around and fetch a newspaper. They’re really good at providing comfort.”

Malle mentioned that they don’t want to make promises that they can’t keep and that current goals are to design a robotic task that can perform a few tasks very well. Having a comprehensive knowledge of a few different chores may be better than unreliability across a wide number of features, and that’s what Hasbro and Brown are aiming for.

Retaining Independence

As mentioned above, one of the main goals of this robotic cat is the ability for seniors to remain more independent and stay in their homes longer. Another important piece of that puzzle is affordability. The current model only costs $100, and the team hopes to keep the upgraded model within that price range as well.

Diane Feeney Mahoney, a professor emerita at MGH Institute of Health Professions School of Nursing, is an expert in the use of technology for older people. She’s stated that the project shows promise because of the team behind the project. The robotic cat could be a tool that could make simple tasks easier for a caregiver watching over a loved one with dementia. In nursing homes where pets aren’t allowed, a convincing robotic cat could provide a mixture of companionship and utility that this subset of the senior population so desperately needs.

Currently, scientists are working on passing out surveys and running focus groups and interviews to try to get a better sense of what everyday living looks like for an older adult. It’s clear that the research team has the practical needs of their target population in mind. Hasbro and Brown hope that the advancements made from this combination of artificial intelligence and comforting toy help make the life of seniors easier while fighting back feelings of loneliness, depression, and anxiety.