On Wednesday, September 21, Dr. Takanori Shibata, Ph.D. in collaboration with the Consulate General of Japan in Los Angeles and Japan Foundation visited Harbor Regional Center in Torrance, CA to demonstrate his creation named “Paro”, a purpose-built therapeutic harp seal robot. Two white Paro robots came along to assist in the demonstrations, moving and cooing as spectators and children interacted with them in the intimate setting. The seals impressed everyone not only with their realism, but also with their ability to engage with the children who had been diagnosed with different developmental disabilities. In all, nearly a dozen children were able to pet, carry, and even speak with the seals, bringing smiles to everyone’s faces.
The Paro robots present were the eighth generation models equipped with five different types of sensors beneath its soft outer fur to detect touch, light, temperature, sounds, and position. Using these various technologies in conjunction with smart learning software, the Paros could respond accordingly to the children’s actions, repeating sounds and movements if they were stroked or stopping a behavior if they were hit. As such, the children were able to interact with the Paro robots as if they were real pets.
Dr. Shibata, Chief Senior Research Scientist at Japan’s National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST), explained that he had originally experimented with creating robotic dogs and cats along with the currently available harp seals; however, after prolonged interaction, people would critically compare the dog and cat models to their real-life counterparts. On the other hand, because most people had never interacted with a harp seal before Paro, their perception of the robotic harp seal was mostly positive. Furthermore, using a harp seal as a model for his robots, Dr. Shibata was able to bypass people’s preconceived biases against either dogs or cats. These days, Paro has become the “Most Therapeutic Robot” as certified by the Guinness Book of World Records, and this designation was evident at Harbor Regional Center when the two Paro robots were able to elicit audible reactions from several children previously diagnosed as “speech delayed.”
For more news coverage of Paro’s visit to Harbor Regional Center, follow the link to Torrance CitiCABLE: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HnCvvY6p0mM&t=10m26s. For more information about Paro robots in general, visit: http://www.parorobots.com/.