Thursday, June 26, 2008

Nursing Home Technology: Aibo, the Robotic Dog, Eases Loneliness (Video 1:53 mins.)

I first read about Aibo, Sony’s robotic dog, in 2006 when it was being tested in nursing homes. I was so impressed with the pleasing possibilities this little charmer could bring to patients, especially lonely ones, that I included robotic dogs in my book Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes. In the chapter titled Baby Boomer Haven, in which an imaginary tour of a nursing home based on current best practices is described, I say this:

“Watch out for Diva Dog over there, one of several resident pets. She’s just looking you over to make sure you look her over. In her spare time, she’s a certified psychologist. For patients who prefer the convenience of a responsive robotic pet, we have two mechanical dogs that operate with artificial intelligence. They provide playful companionship without the need for feeding, walking, and cleaning up after them. The best part about the mechanical dogs is that the more patients interact with them, the more responsive the dogs become to the patients. All the animals here are like our extended family. For some of us, they are our only family.”

After that testing period, Aibo disappeared, but a few months ago, I was glad to hear strong rumors about an Aibo resurrection. The new Aibo will have downloadable personalities. It will be fully Wi-Fi controllable and able to climb stairs. Referred to as Aibo PS (PlayStation), this mechanical dog awakens itself, senses sounds and motion, and pings e-mail. Wagging its tail, Aibo also bleeps with pleasure when petted, responds to several commands, and enjoys the company of others like a living dog would.

During seven weeks of tests at three nursing homes, researchers compared how residents interacted with Sparky, a living mid-sized dog, and Aibo. According to Dr. William Banks, professor of geriatric medicine at Saint Louis University, “The most surprising thing is they (robotic dogs) worked almost equally well in alleviating loneliness and causing residents to form attachments.” To that I say, “Good dog, Aibo!” You can read more about this nursing home experiment with Aibo at  “Medical News Today” website.

Meet the amazing Aibo:

Frances Shani Parker, Author
Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes is available in paperback at many booksellers and in e-book form at Amazon and Barnes and Noble booksellers.


  1. I loved the youtube. There are pros and cons, for sure. A robotic dog can’t bite a resident and does not have to be fed or walked. However, I am sure maintaining the robotic dog can be expensive.

    My Dad is in the moderate to severe stages of Alzheimer's. The youtube below, is a robotic cat, he holds. The cat was not only mistaken by cat owners, but real cats too, at a cat show.

  2. You are right about the expense, which is why a lot of them don't exist yet. Your father's cat looks VERY real. It definitely would have fooled me. It's so nice your father has an animal like this to nurture with all the conveniences of not being real.