How can a baby robot seal be a medical device?

The Power of Robots in Therapy

The NAO robot from Aldebaran Robotics is adorable, but it’s also one of Paro’s peers. Among its potential uses is in therapy for children with autism spectrum disorders.
The NAO robot from Aldebaran Robotics is adorable, but it’s also one of Paro’s peers. Among its potential uses is in therapy for children with autism spectrum disorders.

The therapeutic effectiveness of Paro and other therapy robots is also still under review and results of long-term studies are still unknown, but evidence suggests robot therapy may be an alternative non-pharmacological option for elderly patients with dementia and mood disorders. Therapy robots may also help reduce the costs of long-term care for elderly patients living with dementia, although the use of toy-like robots instead of traditional pharmacological therapies is part of a larger ethical debate over the use of human-robot interaction as a form of unconventional therapy versus traditional caregiving.

Other types of therapy robots can be found in clinical environments, from those that are also plush -- like the soft toy that looks like an Easter Peep used to help overstimulated autistic kids to calm down (Keepon) -- to LEGO-built robots used to manage phobias (Phobot).

MIT-Manus is another example of a therapy robot; this one helps patients relearn basic motor skills after experiencing a stroke. And the data collected and stored on every patient who uses this type of robot can help clinicians evaluate their patients' overall improvement or decline more effectively.

In addition to the aforementioned Keepon, there are other therapy robots to help kids with autism, autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) or other developmental issues to grow, practice and improve their social skills. The NAO robot (which is pronounced "now"), for example, offers kids a safe and predictable interactions -- and the developers behind the 'bot have found that autistic kids are more responsive to the machine than they are to other humans. Social robots may also collect data helpful for clinicians to better diagnose autism, such as measuring eye gaze and facial expressions in young children.

Author's Note: How can a baby robot seal be a medical device?

It was way back in 1950 when Alan Turing considered, "Can machines think?" and officially sparked our artificial intelligence fantasies; several decades later, we've gone beyond debating whether or not Number Five is alive at the movies to actually interacting with the machines we've built. Fingers crossed these plushy therapeutic robots that are making a difference in our human lives today aren't the Cylons of tomorrow.

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