Plush toy robots become a new type of therapy animal

Plush toy robots become a new type of therapy animal
Image credit: Jerry the Bear

Therapy animals can be of a lot of help to many people. Sadly, not every person in need can take care of an animal. This is were plush toy robots come in and can be very helpful.

Other times people have to be in a hospital room. Hospitals usually don’t allow pets. In some occasions, they allow specially trained therapy dogs, but that’s rare.

This is once again another use for plush toy robots, CNET reports. There are a few companies which now make the so-called comfort companions, ie these special plush toy robots.

There are different such toys already. Among them are Paro, My Special Aflac Duck, Jerry the Bear and more. They are more than just toys. They are specially made to comfort kids and adults cope with serious illnesses like cancer, diabetes, dementia and depression.

Paro for example is certified by the Food and Drug Administration. Each such comfort companion has a slightly focused way of work. Jerry the Bear is specially made for children with diabetes. He also uses AR and mobile apps to help kids learn more about how to take care of their health.

My Special Aflac Duck is dedicated mostly to comfort kids battling cancer. Hasbro is making a whole line of robotic cats and dogs which help lonely old people and people suffering from dementia.

“An animal can provide a connection between people and be the conduit for interactions. I saw a person who was severely depressed relate to my dog, talk to my dog and eventually talk to me”, says Lyn Belingheri, a volunteer at Stanford Health Care who coordinates the PAWS (Pet Assisted Wellness at Stanford) program to CNET.

If you think about how kids play with stuffed animals, kids put their imaginations on what this plush personality is,” says Hannah Chung, co-founder and chief creative officer at Sproutel. “We are very intentional about not over designing our features. We think about the minimal things we have to provide and how much room we want a kid to have to fuel their imagination.”

And these plush toy robots can do a lot more. “I am proposing Paro to be a companion for astronauts for mental health in long-term missions such as a mission to Mars. It is very difficult for them to take animals. Paro may reduce the stress of astronauts, and reduce the risk of human error”, says Takanori Shibata, chief senior research scientist at the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST) in Japan, is the man behind Paro.