A California company is marketing a robotic dog they’re developing to be a best friend that can comfort people who are living with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. The makers said that this robot dog will be able to provide companionship for people by responding to human voice and touch with “life-like motions.”
Entrepreneur Tom Stevens of the company Tombot presented a test version of their robotic dog, a yellow Labrador puppy, to older residents in a nursing home in Thousand Oaks, California in early July of 2019. Stevens partnered with Jim Henson’s Creature Shop, an effects company that also created The Muppets, to help give the robot dog realistic movements.
“It didn’t just have to look real and feel realistic but it had to behave realistically as well,” said Stevens. He believes that once the Tombot dog is complete, it will be able to grunt, wag its tail and move its head from side to side in such a manner that will be lifelike enough to help people with Alzheimer’s and dementia. Furthermore, he said that another benefit is that it’ll be easier to look after than a real dog.
The Tombot dog, known as “Jennie,” has 16 motors that control its movements and it has sensors that allow it to respond to voice commands and to touch. This touch sensor is sophisticated enough to allow the Tombot dog to respond differently depending on whether it’s being given a vigorous playful pet or a gentle caress.
Stevens said that he came up with the idea for Jennie after his mother became diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and it became too difficult to take care of her and her dog. He hopes this technology can one day provide companionship that doesn’t require a lot of effort to maintain for people like his mother. Tombot is also being marketed as a way to help people, both young and old, deal with other mental health concerns such as stress, anxiety, loneliness and depression.
Currently, Jennie is being used in several nursing homes around the US as part of animal therapy, a kind of therapy that involves developing the loving relationship between humans and other animals, usually dogs and cats, to reduce a wide range of mental health concerns. (Related: Robot-dog being used to help dementia patients remember memories.)
The most recent versions of Jennie, along with her previous skills, have also allowed her to bark, open and close her mouth and move her head and eyes. The response Jennie has gotten from older residents of nursing homes has been overwhelmingly positive, much to the joy of Stevens. Those who have interacted with the robot dog have described her as a “good girl” and “awesome.”
While Jennie is the first robot dog Tombot has released, Stevens has mentioned that his company is developing other kinds of robot animals, including other breeds of dogs and cats.
“Live animal therapy helps soothe the behavior and psychological symptoms (of living with dementia),” said Stevens in an interview. “With the robot animals, it’s important to introduce them early in the disease progression so that they have the cognition to form the attachment. So when they’re in a later stage in their dementia progression, the animal is already something that they turn to for comfort.”
Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia are serious health concerns, and a variety of natural therapies and interventions can be done to prevent them. Learn more about these preventative measures you can take at Dementia.news.