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These Ultrarealistic, Commercially Available Robo-Pets Could Be the Future of Senior Citizen Companionship

Toymaker Hasbro’s new Joy for All robotic animal line uses the power of play to help inspire the elderly.

Image via Joy for All / Hasbro

After my grandfather died, my grandmother—well into her 70s at the time—found herself, for the first time in a long time, without a daily companion. That loss made the transition from sharing a house with her husband to living alone in an elder-care center all the more difficult. She became depressed, frustrated, and, above all else, terribly lonely. Then she met Emmie, and suddenly things took a dramatic turn for the better. Emmie, a rescue cat adopted from a local shelter, became my grandmother’s constant companion, the recipient (sometimes reluctantly) of her care, and object of her affection. She filled a void in my grandmother’s life that made life in this new environment suddenly seem entirely doable.

Image via Joy for All / Hasbro

My grandmother is older now, and has since moved to a new facility that specializes in senior citizens who suffer from memory loss. Unfortunately, Emmie wasn’t allowed to make the trip to this new home, and so my grandmother’s feline companion was generously re-adopted by a family friend. Still, I can’t help but think of how much it mattered to my grandmother to have something as simple as a house cat at her side while she adjusted to that new phase of her life—especially given the recent announcement that toy maker Hasbro (whose retail empire includes Nerf, Dungeons & Dragons, and My Little Pony) has launched a line of ultrarealistic robotic animals aimed squarely at my grandmother’s demographic: seniors in search of a furry companion to keep them company.

Called Joy for All, Hasbro’s line of robotic pets features a series of faux felines available in various realistic colors and fur patterns. Each “cat” is programmed to respond to various forms of hands-on stimuli: Rub its cheek, and the robocat will nuzzle against your hand; pet its head, and it will purr contentedly; keep going, and it might roll over for you to rub its tummy.

The company explains on its website:

We believe that the power of play can bring joy to people at all stages of life, and we've heard from our friends, fans, and consumers that some of our toys and games are especially appealing to seniors and enhance meaningful interactions with their loved ones.

These foundational insights inspired us to create HASBRO'S JOY FOR ALL products, beginning with JOY FOR ALL Companion Pets, which have been carefully adapted to inspire delight, companionship, and engagement for all generations.

As GOOD wrote about this past spring, Japan—with its advanced robotics industry and growing disparity between aging seniors and able-bodied workers—has long been experimenting with methods to incorporate mechanized automatons into elder care. That pursuit has led Japanese researchers to develop things like the Robear—a giant, bear-shaped machine capable of lifting and carrying senior citizens in and out of their beds. On a slightly smaller scale, robotics manufacturer Paro created furry, touch-sensitive electronic seals, designed to occupy and entertain patients suffering from dementia.

But Joy for All differs in one important aspect: Its robotic pets are commercially available, retailing for just under $100—a steal compared to the thousands of dollars per unit initially asked for by Paro.

The question remains: Is a robotic cat, no matter how realistic, a suitable substitute for the real thing? The testimonials on the Joy for All website seem to indicate that yes, in some ways, it is. Writes one owner:

image via joyforall / hasbro

“ for some time now, when the grandchildren have come, their interaction with my husband is very quick, very cursory, and they don't know what to say. It's "Hi, how are you?" They're gone. And then, with this, they came and sat down and they talked and they had something to talk about. Something happy. And again, it takes that pressure off. And then to have him respond in a positive way, that even makes it go a little further.”

Granted, that’s not exactly the same as owning a living, breathing animal. But for those among us unable, or unwilling, to take on the full responsibility of pet ownership, Joy for All may ultimately be the next best thing.

Plus, no litter boxes.

[via gizmodo]

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