Robotic therapy dogs help those who can’t care for real dogs

Posted at 10:21 PM, Apr 29, 2019
and last updated 2019-04-29 22:21:22-04

Los Angeles, CA (KCAL) — You’ve heard all about therapy dogs , but what about a therapy dog who isn’t canine at all?

Welcome to the world of robo-dogs.

CBS2/KCAL9’s Jeff Nguyen introduces you to Jennie, a robo-dog who is helping to improve one man’s life.

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

“For me it looks and sounds like a dog,” she says.

But Jennie isn’t. She’s designed to help patients who are unable to care for a real living pet.

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. Sometimes with pets, they can get a little rambunctious,” Autumn says.

Jennie feels like a dog.

“She is covered with touch sensors. She can feel how and where she’s being touched,” says Tom Stevens.

His company, Tombot, was created 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 live animal companions,” Stevens says.

USC’S Dr. Maja Mataric says therapy pets may help patients cope with loneliness, anxiety and stress.

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

And there is also some evidence that robotic companions can do the same thing. Jennie barks and wags her tail — just like a real dog. She also responds to touch and creates a connection for people like Dennis.

“Something like this would help him engage his mind, and something else – calm his body. So I think it’s a wonderful tool,” Autumn says.

Robo-dogs are set to go on the market next year and will cost about $450.

An interesting aside to the robo-dog: the synthetic fur was created by Jim Henson’s Creature Shop which produces “The Muppets.”