Aibo, the robotic robot dogA recent study out of Saint Louis University compared a therapy trained dog, Sparky, and a robot dog, Sony made Aibo, to find out the effect on nursing home patients and the result of the study said that the robot dog eased patients loneliness as well as the real dog.

Now, I can understand that initially the novel effect might be amusing toSparky, trained therapy dog people; the little robot dog wags its plastic tail, barks and can even learn basic commands.

The study broke into three groups over a 6 week period at three separate nursing homes, one group got visits from Sparky, a 9 year old trained therapy dog, the second group got visits from Aibo, the robot dog and a third group received no visits.

The group visited by Sparky got cuddles from a warm, furry, tail-wagging pup and took to Patient interacting with robot doghim immediately. The group visited by Aibo took longer to warm up to the robot dog but after a week they were petting it and talking to it and it responded by tail wagging, vocalizing and blinking lights.

After the study, participants were asked a series of questions about how lonely they felt and their attachment to Sparky or Aibo. Both groups showed a noticeable decline in loneliness compared to the control group.

Now, I’m not surprised by this and neither was Sara Kiesler, a professor of human-computer interaction at Carnegie Mellon University who said the results aren’t completely convincing. Kiesler said another study could compare a visit from Aibo with someone stopping by with a stuffed animal or just a candy bar.

For people who live, often almost abandoned by family and friends, almost any kind of a visit will ease loneliness and something as novel as a little robot that is somewhat interactive would definitely be amusing… for a time. These are people who often face almost crushing loneliness every day and almost anything would be better than nothing at all.  I bet if those researchers actually came out and asked them, unless they didn’t like dogs, which they preferred, they’d go for the real, flesh and blood, soft, furry, panting pooch everytime!

To me it’s more like a child with a new toy, eventually they will grow bored with it. There is no way to replace a living, loving, warm and furry pooch that gives and receives attention happily and welcomes pets and cuddles and gives unconditional love back.

Sorry Aibo, you might be an interesting distraction and amusement but regardless of what any short-term study may say, I’ll keep my furbabies and love them and they’ll love me right back. No cold-hearted robotic love with blinking lights will ever compare!

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