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Could you ever love a robot pet the same way you love your dog? Our need for pet companionship isn't going anywhere, so in the future a robot pet would seem very likely. Robotic animals could reduce stress levels, provide GPS navigation, and even administer personal defense! Jonathan explores the advantages of robot pets and some exciting examples that are already available.
If you could have any kind of robotic pet, what would it be? Let us know in the comments below!
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Dog won't stop barking at the mailman? Just press pause.
Could you ever love a robot pet the same way you love your dog? Most of us are hardwired to love animals. And I'm not talking about the kind of love we have for Dr. Who. Although I have plenty of that too.
I'm talking about the kind of love we have for other people. Playing with pets is already known to release the hormone oxytocin, aka the "cuddle chemical." This is the molecule we associate with romantic love and parental nurture. Plus, playing with pets can lower your stress level or your cholesterol or ever your blood pressure. The need for pet companionship is a fundamental part of being human, and that's not going anywhere. But I'm beginning to wonder, in the future is a robot pet even possible?
We already have a couple of really cute examples. Like Paro the robotic harp seal. This is a therapeutic robot animal that's used in nursing homes and hospitals and has been on the market for years. Or Pleo and Pleo rb, the robotic dinosaurs that have lifelike movements and facial expressions and react positively to being played with and petted. Future upgrades could include things like realistic furs, simulated body heat, maybe even artificial intelligence so it reacts in a reciprocal way with human interaction.
And these future animals may not just be useful from a pet companionship aspect. For example, Boston Dynamics' line of four-legged robots. These robots can run on four legs and they'll even stumble to maintain their balance if you push them. So it doesn't take a lot of imagination to envision them running and romping and playing like a golden retriever, except this particular robot will be able to follow you wherever you go with complete dedication, even across a burning desert or in deep heavy snow.
Now, no one has bothered to give it fur or facial expressions or a cuddle instinct, but why not? I mean a robot pet with GPS could lead you to unknown destinations. Or maybe it could carry really heavy loads on your behalf, or even provide personal defense!
Ok, imagine this. You're going on a midnight jog and then once again you're pursued by clone velociraptors. Happens to me all the time. Well, then your robot pet leaps to your defense! I mean, the Boston Dynamics robot can throw cinder blocks! Pretty sure this pet's got your back.
It might be hard to imagine loving a robot the same way you love your living dog or cat, but research shows that we already make emotional attachments with robots, whether they're robot vacuums or bomb disposal units.
A robot pet also would have advantages over other pets. I mean, you don't have to walk a robot dog or feed it or scoop up after it. Plus, robot pets could go places that living pets might not be able to go, like on board an airplane. So if you have a phobia, you could have your robot pet there to reduce your stress levels. And even if robots never replace the flesh and blood cats and dogs we love, maybe they'll still be in the pet ownership picture. But instead of replacing the dog or cat, they replace YOU!
A 2013 study found that dogs would react positively with a telepresence robot - which was basically a screen and some robotic hands - as long as the robot displayed social behavior. Which means these robots could provide companionship and stimulation to your pet while you're busy at the office.
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