• Geek: Robot beagle offers interactive, non-allergic alternative for therapy

    Charlie Brown might not agree that a beagle is the best way to deal with difficult times, but then he never met Therabot. This toy-like contraption responds to individuals and is being developed to help people deal with post traumatic stress disorder in similar ways that real and stuffed versions are utilized in therapy.

    Therabot is in the works under the watchful eye of director Dr. Cindy Bethel at Mississippi State University’s Social, Therapeutic, & Robotic Systems (STaRS) Lab. The idea is to combine therapeutic techniques that use stuffed animals and real ones to help people deal with trauma.

    Both existing forms of therapy work, but have downsides. If a person is allergic to or afraid of animals, there’s obviously a big roadblock right there. On the other hand, the stuffed counterparts don’t offer the kind of interaction that some people are looking for. Therabot responds to a person’s presence and movements with sounds, nuzzles and other reactions thanks to three degrees of movement in the head and moveable joints including a segmented tail. The robotic pal is packed with high tech sensors including conductive fabric “fur,” a gyroscope and accelerometer that allow it to know which way its oriented and respond accordingly.

    Bethel expects that interacting with the robot will have similar results to patients being with the real thing. “We’re just extending it by having it be more affordable, something you can hold in your lap easily, that you can take with you to go home,” she said.

    Bethel and her team experimented with 10 different test shapes before settling on this configuration. There were a few different canine options plus a bear, a frog, a cat and a few non-animal shapes (including a faceless puffy ball with arms and legs). 1,045 people were polled and the beagle won out, which surprised Bethel who figured the bear would walk away the cuddly victor. The ball-thing came in dead last.

    Now that they have the best shape, the immediate goal is to fix an overheating issue caused by the combination of circuitry and stuffing. From there it’s a matter of seeing how people respond to Therabot in a general way. Those tests will begin in the fall with an eye towards testing with patients in the summer. Once all the testing is done, Bethel and company will look into ways to mass market the device to help the most people at a somewhat reasonable price. 

    Source: http://www.geek.com/news/robot-beagle-offers-interactive-non-allergic-alternative-for-therapy-1631062/

Comments are closed.