As the age of technology advances around us we are getting more and more accustomed to seeing an increasing number of robots taking over household chores such as vacuuming, cutting the grass, cleaning the pool or even creating gourmet meals!1 However one mostly overlooked field is robotic pets, which intend to simulate real pets without all the hassle of looking after them. A couple examples of robotic pets are the Sony AIBO2, a robotic dog and the Ugobe Pleo3, a week old Camarasaurus Dinosaur.
The article “Robo-Pets as good as the real thing” by Iain Thomson talks about research that has been done on how robotic pets compare to real pets in daily life. The research shows that the elderly and children alike respond especially well to these robotic companions. Elderly residents at care homes were given AIBO’s for six weeks and in the end reported that they were feeling less depressed and more active than they had been without the robots.4 Children also had similar comments about the AIBO stating that it ‘could be a good companion’.
The AIBO is mainly targeted at children because it is little more than a novelty. It may be interesting but it has no practical use. Although research has shown that elderly people find the companionship rehabilitating, the high cost of these units puts it out of most of their reach. One big advantage of units like the AIBO is that they can teach children the basics about pet care and help their parents determine if the kids are old enough to have the responsibility of caring for an actual living pet. Another use of the robotic pets such as the AIBO is to simply be a pet that doesn’t really require the same level of commitment as owning a real pet. This might be especially good for people who don’t spend a lot of time at home and don’t have resources to care for the animal during the day.
However just like how everything useful has a disadvantage, the Sony AIBO also poses a problem to children. Since it does not impose any of the negative aspects of owning a pet, children may not fully understand the whole concept of caring for an animal. Instead they might be easily bored and essentially neglect the animal because of the amount of work and effort that it requires.
As the field of robotics advances, there is no doubt that more advanced robotic animals will be developed and sold to the masses. People might be able to own the animal of their dreams without having to deal with the hassles that go along with it. For example a Penn State Alumni might be able to own his own robotic lion! As with all new technologies however the price will definitely be a burden to most, but to those that are able to afford it, the sector is still at its infancy!
The main issue with the widespread use of robots is that people will start to depend on them too much, and will miss out on the humanity aspect of life. One of the greatest challenges that life presents us is probably parenthood, and relying on a robot to show us if our child is ready for a real animal is just not going to be a good and informed decision. There are many uses for robotics in a consumer point of view, but I don’t think that robotic pets are a good replacement for a real live companion.