Now robots do pet therapy

It was 1953 when the child psychiatrist Boris Levinson discovered how a pet animal could prove useful in therapies to fight anxiety, stress and depression. It was him who coined the term pet therapy

According to several sources, the pet therapy as we know it today came as a result of a chance event, which had Dr. Levinson as its protagonist. The latter was the owner of a dog named Jingles. One day he forgot to let him out of his study before accommodating the family of an autistic child he was treating, so the child began interacting with the dog. Levinson noted that this relationship between his four-legged friend and his little patient brought relaxation and distraction to the child. He therefore decided to involve the dog as a co-therapist during the sessions. Since then, several studies have been carried out confirmnig the value of using pets to complement traditional treatments. But now there could be another revolution in the field.

Although robots have not yet replaced humans, it seems, however, that they could replace animals in pet therapy. In fact, a recent study published by the University of Portsmouth revealed that pet robots could be excellent replacements. Doctor who supervised the study, Leanne Proops, said: “We know that real dogs can provide calming and enjoyable interactions for children – increasing their feelings of wellbeing, improving motivation and reducing stress. This preliminary study has found that biomimetic robots — robots that mimic animal behaviours — may be a suitable replacement in certain situations And there are some benefits to using them over a real dog”.

If on the one hand it is unobjectionable the fact that pet therapy brings great benefits to those who use it, it is equally true that maintaining a certain rhythm in the number of visits made could be cause for stress for the animals used. Also, while many may struggle to understand this, there are also people who are afraid or feel uncomfortable when in presence of a real animal. Not to mention the cases in which there are risks of allergies and diseases.

It is in this context that pet robots could establish themselves as a good alternative to our furry friends. For starters, robots can be cleaned thoroughly and thus avert the danger of allergic reactions or diseases. Them, by their very nature, they can work for a long time without being “stressed”. The great progress made in technology and robotics have made the latest robotic animals ever more realistic. These in fact reflect the behaviors and the movements of a real animal. They wag their tails when they’re happy, move their ears when they hear sounds, and they even fall asleep.

The study was carried out with a biomimetic robot developed by Consequential Robotics. Although children reported that they preferred interacting with a living dog, results revealed that overall enjoyment was very high during the session with the robot, to the point that they spent more time with it than they did with the real dogs employed in the research. Their emotions also seemed to be more positive after meeting the robot.

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