People, meet the latest Japanese import to cause a stir in the States. He's Paro, the therapy robot.
From today's WSJ:
Five years ago, a Japanese robot manufacturer introduced Paro to the world. Built to resemble a baby harp seal—with a plush coat of antibacterial fur—Paro was hailed in Japan as a pioneer among socially interactive robots, one that would help lift the spirits of millions of elderly adults.
It never quite caught on. "It doesn't do much other than utter weird sounds like 'heeee' or 'huuuu,'" says Tomoko Iimura, whose adult day-care center in Tsukuba City keeps its Paro in a closet.
Now Paro has come to American shores, appearing in a handful of nursing homes and causing a stir in a way that fake seal pups rarely do.
Nursing-home workers and academics who study human-robot interaction are trying to figure out whether the $6,000 seal, cleared last fall by U.S. regulators as a Class 2 medical device (a category that includes powered wheelchairs) represents a disturbing turn in our treatment of the elderly or the best caregiving gadget since the Clapper.
The Journal article debates the ethics of using Paro, which I am not sure I understand.
I just love the weirdness of it.
Are baby seals often kept as pets in Japan?
The article also says that most sales in Japan have been to private citizens living in buildings that don't allow pets. For %6,000? Wow!