To charge the batteries, the seal
has what resembles a baby’s pacifier
that is actually a cord running from a
wall wart power supply to the pacifier
(with a plug instead of a nipple). The
videos that I’ve seen of Paro operating
seem very realistic, though I admit
that I’ve never seen a baby harp seal
in real life. The elderly shown in
these videos seem to ‘light up’ with
contentment when one is placed in
their laps. If an almost $7,000 placebo
for a person can keep them happy in
their waning years, so be it. Go to
www.kilian-nakamura.com for more
FIGURE 12. Paro the robot harp seal.
Dr. Takanori Shibata spent years
in the development of Paro in 2002,
a robotic harp seal pup that has been
used to ‘heal’ the elderly (Figures 12
and 13). The healing, of course, is in
an emotional sense. These seemingly
sentient robot pets can take the place
of a real cat or dog that a senior may
not be able to take care of or with
them to a ‘no pets’ senior living facility.
Priced at $6,699, these robots are
not a typical child’s stuffed toy, but
neither was the $2,000 Aibo. Dr.
Shibata picked a harp seal pup on
which to model his therapeutic robot
as they seemed to represent the most
helpless, yet lovable creature from the
wild. Their innocence and lovability
grasps one’s heart and it was
Shibata’s intention to portray that
vulnerability. Paro’s eyes have been
augmented a bit with long eyelashes
and the head moves as do the
flippers. If you are familiar with Aibo
or even I-Cybie, the features and
attributes of the Paro robotic seal are
somewhat similar. Paro has:
• A diurnal rhythm of morning, afternoon, and night (reacts differently).
• Five kinds of sensors: tactile, light,
sound, temperature, and posture.
• Can recognize light and dark and
• Can feel being stroked and the
amount of pressure in the strokes.
• Understands when it is being held.
• Can recognize the direction of
• Recognizes its name, greetings, and
• Remembers interactions and adapts.
• Imitates the voice
of a real baby seal.
• Expresses feelings
• Moves head multidirectionally.
• Moves flippers
(front and rear).
• Creates highly
FIGURE 13. Paro with seniors.
Typical of any segment of a
subject as wide spread as robotics —
even Japanese robotics — no article,
book, or even a library of books
can completely cover the subject
adequately. Robots are a major part
of Japanese society, their media, and
entertainment. I have highlighted
three different types of robots from
Japan, all with specific features and
applications. Japan tends to look past
the utilitarian aspect of robotics and
focuses more on robots as friends.
The thousands of robots installed in
Japanese factories are not viewed as
machines that took jobs away but
as friends who made life easier.
American films such as I,Robot,
The Terminator, and others haven’t
made robots too friendly, but Astro
Boy and many other Japanese robots
are mankind’s best friends.
Japan’s Waseda University,
(Japan’s equivalent of MIT and
Carnegie Mellon combined) will
continue to educate and produce
first-rate robotics engineers.
It is estimated by the year 2025,
that the world’s robot market will be
over $56 billion and Japan expects
to command the largest share.
Perhaps roboticists here in the US
will decide to give them a run for
their money. SV
Tom Carroll can be reached via
email at TWCarroll@aol.com.
80 SERVO 12.2008