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article imageOp-Ed: Robot cats — New companion idea for elderly

By Paul Wallis     Nov 18, 2015 in Technology
Sydney - Game and toys giant Hasbro has been working for a few years on this idea. Currently, they have a robot cat range with cat behaviors which are instantly familiar and, well, furry and adorable.
The robot cats are lifelike, cute, demand attention, and sleep when not in contact with its owner to save batteries.
This range of toys is called Joy For All, and there are some major pluses, despite the rather “Huh? What?” nature of the idea. Gizmodo points out that younger people grew up with a range of virtual pets, so why not seniors?
If you look for images of robot companions online, you’ll see everything from very toylike puppies to what can only be described as the most patronizing, intellectually insulting, visual presentations in history and a few ideas which look like they may have got out of Hooters for a few minutes and been seriously considered. These cats are definitely a step up.
This logic tends to be a bit on the banal side, but look a bit deeper:
Companion pets are used in multiple situations for people under stress, or those who need companionship.
A virtual pet is a lot more realistic than a high maintenance real pet for some seniors. Consider housetraining. The average 90 year old may not want to roam the apartment all day with a pooper scooper chasing an adventurous kitten, for example.
You don’t have to worry as much about a virtual pet as you do with a real one. These robot cats won’t go out and get run over or pick fights with other cats or deliver a box full of robot kittens. They also won’t claw the world and anyone in sight to pieces for entertainment.
The hygiene issues with managing real pets are simply beyond some seniors. Cleaning, grooming, and despite a cat’s own fastidious nature, the spread of fur across the environment may be too much. Asthmatics, and other people subject to various respiratory or skin issues, will also appreciate the robo-cats’ less organic side.
The future tech side of robot companions
The technical future is almost as “Whaaaat?” as the basic idea. New technologies and materials are now delivering some very interesting possibilities for robots as a phylum. New sensors, new software, and new behavioral possibilities have gone way beyond the original Japanese talking and responding robots of previous decades.
These robot cats are pretty straightforward in terms of the tech they use. They’re not cats, but they can be expected to become a lot more catlike as they evolve. Anyone who’s ever had a cat won’t expect them to have that incredible personality and unpredictability.
Don’t, however, be surprised if you see cats with “personalities” soon enough. Basic AI has been working on the differences of behaviors for many years now, and it’s more than theoretically possible to build in a range of behaviors which will endear and enhance the companionship experience.
For example, a few hypothetical behaviors are easy to foresee. A few variable behaviors could work something like this using three separate "personalities":
Tinker – Loves snuggling, very affectionate, croons like a real cat, and can play all sorts of games.
Chang – Acts like a Siamese, thinks like a Siamese, prowls, plays games, but is so elegant you wouldn’t want anything else.
Mickey – The typical Eternal Kitten, (they all are) designed to be a bundle of fun, climber with safeguards and Roomba-like abilities in not knocking things over.
The future for robot companions is looking good, if a bit “Eh?” at this stage. There are plenty of practical applications for this tech, and the level of interest in something new and different is a big plus for bored seniors. Many people seem to forget that after X decades of human life as it now is, seniors prefer to have some reason to be alert and interested in new things. This may well be it.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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