Robot therapy dog ‘Jennie’ helps improve man’s life

Robot therapy dogs helping those who can't have live animals

LOS ANGELES, CA (CBS) - We’ve all heard of therapy dogs, but what about a therapy robot dog?

For Autumn Kerr, getting her dad Dennis to smile sometimes requires an artificial touch.

Jennie the robo-dog is a prototype robot therapy dog designed to help patients who are unable to care for a real pet. The synthetic fur for the robo-dogs was created by Jim Henson’s Creature Shop, which produces “The Muppets.”

Dennis has Parkinson’s disease and has difficulty moving and speaking.

“She’s calming. You can just pet her. She’s not active and all over the place,” Kerr said. “Sometimes with pets, they can get a little rambunctious.”

Tom Stevens created his company, Tombot, after his mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and her beloved dog had to be taken away.

“My mom was devastated, so I started looking at substitutes for life animal companions,” Stevens said.

Dr. Maja Mataric, with USC’s Computer Science, Neuroscience and Pediatrics, said therapy pets may help patients cope with loneliness, anxiety and stress.

“There are now increasing number of studies that show that people really thrive and feel better when they have some amount of physical contact in their lives,” Dr. Mataric said.

And there’s some evidence robotic companions can do the same. Jennie barks and wags her tail just like a real dog. She also responds to touch, creating a connection for people like Dennis.

“Something like this would help him engage his mind, calm his body,” Kerr said. “So, I think it’s a wonderful tool.”

The robots go on the market next year for about $450.

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