As populations rise and people age around the world, more and more senior citizens find themselves in societies ill-equipped to offer the physical and emotional attention needed in their twilight years. It is a blessing and bane of advances in modern medicine. But along with medical progress that sees people living decades longer than they used to, technological innovations may help seniors cope with widespread loneliness.
Toy manufacturer Hasbro has expanded its scope and demographic by creating a pair of lifelike virtual pets intended to keep senior citizens company. It launched robotic cats as part of its Joy for All line of toys last year. Now, the company offers a new robotic, responsive golden retriever puppy.
The companion pets are designed to respond much like real pets to vocal cues and physical contact. Petting the pup’s cheek entices it to nuzzle your hand. Stroking its back elicits a subtle heartbeat. The pup barks when spoken to and falls asleep when left alone for a few minutes.
There are some significant advantages to virtual pets as anyone who trained Pokémon can attest. They are potty-trained by default, never need to be fed, cannot run away, and will not attack house guests. Of course, they may lack the full scale of affection that comes with an actual pet but the tradeoff is surely worth it to some.
As bittersweet as it seems, caregiving robots have proven to be affective companions for elderly people. In the Netherlands, an emotionally intelligent robot named Alice was introduced to the homes of a few senior citizens during a trial. The mostly homebound seniors responded well to Alice’s interactions, despite some initial skepticism.
At $120, the robotic pup is not cheap but it is far less expensive than its living, breathing counterparts and well worth the investment to keep grandma company.