Who doesn’t love cute little baby harp seals? Japanese company AIST certainly does: They’ve developed a strikingly realistic robotic seal named PARO to be used for therapy. Paro interacts with people much in the ways a normal baby seal would by moving its head and flippers and making sounds, while using five sensors (audio, light, tactile, posture, and temperature) to assess its environment. What make it such a good therapeutic buddy (aside from looking adorable), is that it remembers how its owner interacts with it and responds based on how it is treated. For example, if it squeaks in a certain way and you hug it, it will squeak in a similar manner more often. On the other hand, if it moves or talks in a way you dislike and you hit it, PARO knows not to make those movements ever again. (This would admittedly be a bit scary in some circumstances.)
PARO is actually Guinness-certified as the world’s most therapeutic robot for the positive social and psychological effect it has on patients. It not only serves to reduce stress, but also increases interaction between patients and their caregivers. The robot has a number of applications in both hospitals and nursing homes, giving patients the love of a pet with virtually none of the work. PARO can express emotions to its caregivers as well and remains the leading “robopet” for therapy.