When you think of pets, you think of cats, dogs, gerbils, hamsters, and fish. But what about a animatronic robot seal?

Meet PARO, an interactive robot baby seal pup. It was developed by Dr. Takanori Shibata, a research scientist at the National Institute of Advanced Industrial and Technology in Japan. He brought his furry friend with him to the Bannatyne campus at the University of Manitoba to demonstrate and talk about the effects of this robot. PARO has five sensors imbedded inside including light, audience, posture, and temperature sensors. This is so that the seal can perceive the people and its enviornment around it. It acts as if it is alive, and it reacts to a person that pets as well as recognizing its own given name.

But its intended use is not as a pet, but as a therapeudic companion to those who are dealing with mental illnesses and disorders such as dementia, depression, and various stress and anxiety disorders. PARO has been found to reduce patient stress, and has the psychological effect Dr. Shibata says that with this technology, people will most likely not need as much medication to treat these illnesses anymore.

"By using PARO, (studies show) the PARO effect continued two hours longer than normal anxiety medication." he said. "In the U.S., they usually spend $1,500 US per month per person with dementia."

There are currently about 5,000 PARO units in use, 3,000 of those in Japan. Most of these are used by institutions and medical care facilities to help patients out.

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