Critter Corner: Can a $6,000 Stuffed Seal Replace Caregivers?


Dear Baxter,

I heard from my cousin, who told me that his mother recently leased a $6,000 stuffed seal to assist with stress relief, relaxation, and motivation. Supposedly when it came out, production of it was stalled at first with the fear that it would replace human caregiver. Have you heard of such a thing, and if so, can you please explain?

Cele Forcomfort

Dear Cele,

What your cousin is referring to is PARO, an animatronic baby harp seal with large black eyes, made by the Japanese company, AIST. The stuffed seal was first introduced to the U.S. in 2008, and classified as a medical device by the Food Drug Administration in 2009, and has been since used to provide therapy in hospitals and care centers.

You are correct in that it’s $6,000 price tag and the fear that it would replace human caregivers stalled its introduction. However, now, its creator, inventor Takanori Shibata, is offering a lease-to-own program (with maintenance support) to try to spread PARO’s presence in the United States.Dozens of facilities, including several in the DC Metro area are currently using PAROs.

According to AIST, “PARO allows the documented benefits of animal therapy to be administered to patients in environments such as hospitals and extended care facilities where live animals present treatment or logistical difficulties.” Patients have seen the following benefits:

• It has been found to reduce patient stress and caregiver stress;

• It stimulates interaction between patients and caregivers;

• It has been shown to improve patient’s relaxation and motivation;

• It improves the socialization of patients with each other and with caregivers.

PARO was recognized as the World’s Most Therapeutic Robot, as certified by Guinness World Records, according to the company.

How does PARO work?

PARO has five kinds of sensors: tactile, light, audition, temperature, and posture sensors, with which it can perceive people and its environment. With the light sensor, PARO can recognize light and dark. It feels being stroked by it’sitactile sensor, or being held by the posture sensor. PARO can also recognize the direction of voice and words such as its name, greetings, and praise with its audio sensor.

PARO can learn to behave in a way that the user prefers, and to respond to its new name. For example, if you stroke it every time you touch it, PARO will remember your previous action and try to get you to repeat that action.

By interaction with people, PARO responds as if it is alive, moving its head and legs, making sounds, and showing your preferred behavior. PARO also imitates the voice of a real baby harp seal.

I don’t think PARO will be replacing human caregivers anytime soon, but it seems like it could be an effective way to provide comfort to patients(when they don’t have a real pet like me!)

For more details on PARO, please see this article in the Wall Street Journal or visit the PARO website.

Arfs and kisses,


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