Robotic Dogs Redesigned to Care for the Elderly

Researchers hope to convert an existing line of toys into intelligent devices that can check vital signs, sense falls and contact emergency responders.

Researchers at the University of Cincinnati are developing robotic pets to help care for the elderly.

Led by professor Claudia Rebola, a team of researchers is working to make robotic pets more realistic and practical. For example, they could one day check your vitals when you pull them in for a warm embrace.

The team recently received a $1 million National Science Foundation grant to redesign an existing line of toys owned by Ageless Innovation, a company founded by former Hasbro executives.

The company recently acquired the Joy For All Companion Pets product line, which has been on the market since 2015 and features simple, toy-like designs, sounds and movements to provide comfort, companionship and fun for elderly users.

Rebola's team wants to take the toys and turn them into the next-generation of robotic intelligence that provides psychosocial support for older adults.

In initial interviews, they found that users wanted a dog that was more realistic. The new prototype is modeled after the Yorkshire terrier, which is one of the most popular breeds among older adults.

Working with high-quality faux fur, the team wants the new dogs to be "more pettable and lifelike." Students also redesigned the body to make it less mechanical and more flexible while improving the eyes, nose and paws.

The team is adding more technology as well, particularly the ability to detect or prevent falls, connect users to caregivers, emergency services and loved ones, check vital signs, and provide reminders. The pet will be your friend, audio diary, and remind you to take your pills.

Next, the team is improving the prototype with plans to market-launch in 2020.

Rebola hopes that future designs will be customizable, so users could model them after their favorite pet.

So you can make a robot copy of your dead best friend that will watch you as the slow crush of time swallows your life. And hopefully they won't eat your eyes when you die.

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