Having an animal as a companion can be helpful in dealing with a wide range of physical and psychological health problems, especially among children. But not everyone can have a pet. Now a new study shows that spending time with a robotic dog as a companion can bring many of the same benefits as spending time with a real dog.
The research, conducted at the University of Portsmouth, is published in the International Journal of Social Robotics. He found that when a group of 11- and 12-year-olds spent two sessions with the biomimetic robot dog MiRo-E, they experienced many of the same positive emotions as when they spent time with an actual therapy dog.
The researchers point to the possible benefits of robotic therapy dogs for those who have allergies to or are afraid of animals. Dr. Leanne Proops, who supervised the study, said in a statement: “We know that real dogs can provide relaxing and enjoyable interactions for children, increasing their feelings of well-being, improving motivation and reducing stress.
“This preliminary study has found that biomimetic robots, robots that mimic the behavior of animals, can be a suitable replacement in certain situations and there are some benefits to using them on a real dog.”
Dogs are the most popular therapy animals because they are sociable and can be well trained. However, they also have many requirements, such as the need to exercise regularly and after cleaning. Robotic dogs like the MiRo-E can mimic many dog behaviors, such as wagging their tails and turning their ears, or expressing emotions through sounds, but they require less intensive care.
The lead author of the study, Olivia Barber, owns a therapy dog. Barber mentioned that robotic dogs might also decrease stress for busy therapy dogs. “Although many people in schools and hospitals benefit greatly from receiving visits from a therapy dog, we have to be mindful of the welfare of the therapy dog,” he said. “Visits can be stressful and incredibly draining for therapy dogs, which means we should explore whether using a robotic animal is feasible.”
This study was only on a small scale, so more research is needed before its findings can be generalized. But potentially, someday in the future, your animal companion could be a cheerful robot rather than a furry friend.