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Robotic Baby Seal Wins Top Award 86

Posted by Zonk
from the late-christmas-gift dept.
SilentOneNCW writes "The BBC has an article up about everyone's favourite creature — the robotic baby seal. This seal, called Paro, is fitted with sensors beneath its fur and whiskers that allow it to respond to petting. The idea is that by utilizing these sensors and flapping its arms, it can engage in therapy for older patients in nursing homes. It has won a service prize from the Japanese government sponsored Robot Awards 2006. The awards were set up earlier this year by the Japanese government to promote research and development in the robotics industry. Robots are widely used in Japan and are seen as a way to help deal with an aging population, maintaining the labour force and helping care for the elderly."
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Robotic Baby Seal Wins Top Award

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 22, 2006 @10:49PM (#17345774)
    Or do regular clubs work?
    • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      This [tshirthell.com] seems appropriate.

      • by Anonymous Coward
        ...so a baby seal walks into a club.
        • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

          by Anonymous Coward
          A string walks into a bar. He sits down and asks the bartender "Can I have a beer?87jSR~3hIj[c&8x,28afi wj28J*)"

          "Please excuse my friend," the second string replies, "He isn't null terminated."
        • by Bugs42 (788576)
          Sir, I dearly wish I had mod points for you. That's one of my favorite jokes.
    • by antic (29198)
      Unfortunate name if it were to be rolled out in Australia where someone soundly inebriated is said to be "paro" (from 'paralytic').

      e.g., "He was paro last night."
    • by pipingguy (566974) * on Saturday December 23, 2006 @01:36AM (#17346484) Homepage
      Would you be so flippant with insensitive remarks like that if it was a penguin getting whacked?

      You Linux guys are so speciesist.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 23, 2006 @06:13AM (#17347384)
      Warranty void if seal is broken.
    • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Jokes aside, I bet most of you have never tasted seal meat. I'm not a big meat eater at all, but it is absolutely DELICIOUS! Better than almost all meat/fish I've had before. It's a pretty dark brown color, so it looks a bit scary at first, but once you taste it... It's one of those desert island foods IMO. The sad part is how hard it is to find a specialized butcher that sells some (closest is a few hours away). One of my friends' dad hunts seal though, so I manage to get some from him sometimes.
    • by CptPicard (680154)
      Well, you COULD possibly interface it with a Wiimote...
  • Suggestion (Score:5, Funny)

    by wombatmobile (623057) on Friday December 22, 2006 @10:55PM (#17345802)

    The idea is that by utilizing these sensors and flapping its arms, it can engage in therapy for older patients in nursing homes.

    That's a good start. Now how about a lap dance?

    • by iSeal (854481)
      That's a good start. Now how about a lap dance?
      /me does lapdance.

      okay, that was my creepy quotient for the day.
  • About time (Score:5, Funny)

    by agent dero (680753) on Friday December 22, 2006 @10:56PM (#17345812) Homepage
    With Japan's growing elderly population, now they can interact with a baby harp seal as per usual.

    The other robot in the article I can forsee stabbing stubborn old people in the face with a spoonful of peas, finally we have a viable alternative to passively torturing our old people, the game of "hide the dentures" was getting a bit boring.
    • "as per usual"?

      So a significant portion of the Japanese population normally interacts with baby harp seals (or even adult seals)?

      No, they are just being used for QA. The real target audience is the Inuit, which can use these robots both for training (in clubbing seals) and to help care for their elderly, before they wander off into the wilderness...

      Aren't stereotypes great...

  • why? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Mike610544 (578872)
    If there a pet shortage in Japan? Dogs/Cats also respond realistically when you interact with them. I might understand how they favor robots over unskilled immigrants for manual labor, but why subject the elderly to robot baby seals?!?
    • Re:why? (Score:5, Funny)

      by UbuntuDupe (970646) * on Friday December 22, 2006 @11:07PM (#17345884) Journal
      The elderly are more likely to forget vital pet care (feeding, vet, etc.). That's why it's important to automate the pet.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by ozmanjusri (601766)
      If there a pet shortage in Japan?

      No, these things will mostly be used by the manga/porn industry. They always have problems getting a tight seal.

      • by Redlazer (786403) *
        Generally speaking, Manga and porn are not the equivalent - Pornographic Manga is called hentai.


        Awesome joke though. Gave me a good laugh.

        -Red

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by ScentCone (795499)
      If there a pet shortage in Japan? Dogs/Cats also respond realistically when you interact with them.

      Anyone that's spent any real time interacting with actual dogs and cats is going to find something like this cold comfort indeed. Perhaps they're thinking of patients in the throws of dementia or something - or just assuming that a lot of elderly Japanese have never actually had a real animal in their lives.

      That being said, a lot of elderly patients have comprimised immune systems. And as nice as it is t
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Tim Browse (9263)

      If there a pet shortage in Japan?

      I think it's more to do with not having the space [blogspot.com] for pets.

  • Cuter then the AIBO (Score:2, Interesting)

    by topherhenk (998915)
    Nothing in the article seems that advanced. We had a spoon feeding robot for yrs in my grad school lab. The Rumba has been out for a while and the seal seems straight forward.
    It is interesting to see how different the robotics field is between the US and Japan. The US focuses on UAV's and others for the defense department/DHS or the space program. While the Japanese focus on human robotic interaction and humanoid robots.
  • Nice idea (Score:3, Funny)

    by rbanffy (584143) on Friday December 22, 2006 @11:04PM (#17345864) Homepage Journal
    It's a very nice idea, mainly because baby seals are very cute creatures and because real seals smell really bad.

    My girlfriend tells me a story that when she went to Namibia, she went to see a beach where seals were having a sunbath. She had to throw away the clothes she was wearing that day because the smell would not come off.

    I can't imagine the bad breath of a whale that eats these things.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 22, 2006 @11:05PM (#17345872)
    I hope I never grow old.

    If they are condescending enough expect to stick me in some hole in the wall and pet a friggen robot doll, I'd tell them where they can shove it.

    Well, unless they give me the source and a computer to hack it, then we may be able to talk. Throw in a deadly laser beam to stick on it's head and I just might wet myself.
    • Maybe by the time you're old, computers will be smarter than the nurses. Then it would be cool.
  • by SengirV (203400)
    I bet they had to ban all Canucks for fear of them clubbing it.
  • What are you?
    I'm a robot baby seal! I do cute, people things with my hands!
    You're free to go. Next! What are you?
    I'm a cow.
    Get in the truck.
    But I can...
    I SAID GET IN THE F-ING TRUCK!

    (ya, I changed it a bit)
  • by icepick72 (834363) on Friday December 22, 2006 @11:18PM (#17345932)
    It's a decoy for the Canadian seal hunters, or target practice, whichever angle you choose to look at it from.
    • Re: (Score:1, Offtopic)

      by MichaelSmith (789609)
      It's a decoy for the Canadian seal hunters

      If one seal in a thousand was boobytrapped then there would be fewer hunters.

  • dream of electronic baby fishes ? and when will we get a "So long and thanks for all the ...electronic fish ?"
  • "allow it to respond to petting"

    Could they maybe make one of those attractive robotic girls that does this? It would make the perfect companion for the average slashdot reader.
  • What a low opinion the Japanese have for their elderly, to think that robot seals could be a substitute for genuine affection. If anyone sticks me in a room with crap like this, I'll CLUB them with the robot baby seal the next time they come and visit!
    • by Barny (103770)
      Hrmm, i read the article a little differantly..

      "Robots are widely used in Japan and are seen as a way to help deal with an aging population."

      I forsee robotic seal "wolfpacks" hunting down the elderly with their lasers and vaporizeing them, kinda like running man, lets take a look at "last weeks winners" :P
    • Aren't you being a little judgemental? I don't think the article was making the suggestion that these robotic seals replace genuine affection. There is no replacement for genuine affection. I think the article suggests that this is potentially a therapeutic tool for the elderly. It has a response akin to bio-feedback. That said, the Japanese traditionally show more respect and reverence toward their elders than in the west.
    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Don't listen to the other replies. You're absolutely right. You always hear about Japan's BURDENING elderly population but you hardly hear about this problem from Italy who has the same percentage of elderly people. In Italy they put considerable effort into giving the elderly a better, more graceful life as opposed to Japan, where they simply want to extend your misery and simply give an APPEARANCE of happiness. I really can't respect a country where they treat their elderly as if they're not human. The Ja
    • If there's one thing people are good at, it's anthropomophizing. Look at how many people extend their pets' emotions, wants, and desires to the entire human range (But the doggie wants to be a mommy! She'll be sad if she can't be a mommy!). For that matter, look at those who start to talk to their cars, computers, and other electronics. This other article [forbes.com] gives more details about how the elderly have interacted with the robotic seal, and mentions some studies conducted with Aibo. It seems that, provided tha
    • by Yvanhoe (564877)
      Well, it may be hard to imagine, but some people actually use animals as a substitute for genuine affection. If that succeeds, I don't see why a robotic thing should fail...
  • Thank the lord the BBC is spending my tax money researching these key issues! What would we do without you?
  • How about you make a robotic Penguin...and make sure that it can run Linux.
  • Just remember folks, robots are our friends [albinoblacksheep.com]. Just watch out for the cute ones.
  • Perplexed (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Cafe Alpha (891670) on Saturday December 23, 2006 @12:43AM (#17346274) Journal
    Ok, I understand that some people want to pet a stuffed toy and pretend that it's a baby seal. I mean actually do this more than once.

    Let's say that this applies to say, 1% of the population.

    Ok, now you stick some robotics into your stuffed toy (they would have said "clockwork" a hundred years ago), does that really raise the percentage of people interested in petting the stuffed toy and pretending that it's a real seal?

    I mean I like stuffed toys myself, but I can't imagine that putting machinery inside of one makes it better. Since you don't have to pretend that it's moving or anything, I think you're MORE likely to be thinking of it as just an object, in case you'll think of it as a machine rather than as a pillow.

    I mean lets face it, the smartest computerized toy is no nearer to being a real seal than an ordinary doll is.

    And isn't the whole premise awfully condescending and insulting? If you want to help old people get over loneliness, why are you foisting toys on them rather than say, time with a real human being, or a real pet?
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Bottlemaster (449635)

      And isn't the whole premise awfully condescending and insulting? If you want to help old people get over loneliness, why are you foisting toys on them rather than say, time with a real human being, or a real pet?

      I couldn't agree with you more.

      If I saw this product in a different context, I would think it was marketed at children. It's like a Furby but cute or something. I think robots that provide basic healthcare (washing, feeding, providing little cups of medicine) for the elderly are a wonderful idea,

    • When you understand the sheer number of Elderly people in Japan.. the ageing population problem... you'll see there is no way they feasibly provide around-the-clock care and affection for the elderly. Real pets are too difficult to care for, too large for the average retirement home, and too far too unsanitary for people who's immune system is rapidly growing weak.

      The product (the seal) has been created by researchers, not homes and carers. They're not foisting toys on them. They think that the basic biofee
    • by Lost Race (681080)

      Do you pretend your car is a horse?

      It serves the same purpose more efficiently with lower maintenance requirements. That's why we use machines instead of animals.

  • Yes that robot will help in simulations.

    http://www.newgrounds.com/seals/index.html [newgrounds.com]

  • I must say this is a great idea. It is taking relatively older ideas and technology and modernizing them. There is a lot to be said for the neural stimulation one recieves from the simple act of caring for something. It has been shown that stuffed animals help a child to learn and cope with difficulty. Using Bio-Feedback, one can see the stimulation this provides. Taking robotics and applying it to the stuffed animal is wonderful. The sounds of satiation that the harp seal stuffed animal provides work
    • I see.

      So it may work better than it sounds.

      Still, I can't help thinking of the pet robot dog in "Sleeper". Can anyone remember its lines?
  • I have this image in my mind.

    Nurse: "Mr. Yamoto, it's time for your therapy"

          The adorable robot seal flops into the room.

    Patient: "No. Please no. For the love of god, don't put me in a room with that thing!"

    Nurse: "Oh don't be a baby Mr. Yamoto, it's for your own good."

          The robot looks at the patient and its eyes start to glow red.

    Patient: "Anything but the robot seal! Anything! I'm begging you, please no!"

    Nurse: "There's nothing to be afraid of. The seal just wants to be petted and help you"

          The robot turns to the nurse and gives him an adorable, innocent expression.

    Nurse: "See? Its harmless. The seal couldn't hurt a flea!"

          The robot turns back to the patient and opens its mouth, revealing razor sharp steel teeth and a small amount of blood draining from the corner of its mouth.

          The nurse shuts the patient in a small room with the seal. There's the sound of loud screaming for the next ten minutes, followed by silence.

    Nurse (as he drags the patient's bloody corpse from the room): "Ahh, this new robot is great! Takes care of the fussy old folks like nobody's business!"
  • I don't get it. (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Sorry if I missed the point but: where's the technical prowess here?

    How I see things (maybe in a too simplistic way) is:
    if( sensorActive == true )
    {
        flapArms();
        blinkEyes();
    }

    With a bunch of captors under the fur and voila.
    What's the deal with it?
  • Robot seals.......overlords....come on, this story obviously needs such a post.

  • by dangitman (862676) on Saturday December 23, 2006 @02:38AM (#17346762)
    Don't blow a seal.
  • good...call me when you have robotic babe.
  • ...that when I'm old enough to need this kind of care, nobody attempts to give me a robotic seal to pet. Fortunately for the people creating these robotic seals, the old people they are trying to give the seals to, are probably not a physical threat anymore. But if I were one of them, I think I would have tried to land a shot anyway...
  • "Robots are looked on as a solution to Japan's ageing population" I don't really see how small, robotic seals are meant to prevent people from getting older, unless they "dispose" of the elderly somehow.
  • The ultimate Bond Villain accessory toy.

    http://www.segatoys.co.jp/yumeneko/index.html

    Whatever you do don't pull its tail.

  • but how about the benefits of petting the nursing staff? I'll bet a study would show some benefit to that.
  • Don't even THINK about next April Fool's Day.

  • for dinner.

    Sorry, couldn't resist. Had to get it out of my system.

    Now, on a more serious note. Essentially this is a toy. No one needs me to point out that robot toys have been, and remain, really popular. Kids interact with them tirelessly. Adults like toys, too, of course. "Daaaad, it's s'pose to be MY train set."

    So, like all people, old folks like toys, too. My Mom is 90. She is independent. She still works as an artist. And she takes pretty good care of herself. She absorbs more news than I do and

  • Well, I didn't quite club one, but I do have pictures of me laughingly pretending that's what I was doing. I suspect I'm going to regret that.

    The real story was that I met the inventor at a public exhibition of the seals, and before he was introduced to the audience I saw a couple of the seals with a large wooden mallet lying next to them. My first thought was "Oh dear God, no. Tell me he's not going to...."

    Of course, bad taste and poor judgement (entirely on my part) took over from there. :-)

    The invent

In seeking the unattainable, simplicity only gets in the way. -- Epigrams in Programming, ACM SIGPLAN Sept. 1982

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