Therapy Robots for College Students
There are many ways in which our world and society could be improved, I doubt that anyone could disagree with that. However, I do feel that one thing has genuinely advanced from days passed; the desire to take mental health far more
seriously. Our culture is finally appearing to make mental health a major concern, and, because of this, there is a movement sprouting to take care of our minds in a variety of ways. Professionally, I have been diagnosed with a number of things, although by far the most prominent are a variety of anxiety disorders. Perhaps the most prevalent is what is known as G.A.D. (or Generalized Anxiety Disorder). For this, I have pursued both therapy and medication. However, I am always curious about alternative methods of treatment; this is why my interest was piqued when I learned about the Joy For All Companion Pet robotic therapy device from Hasbro.
Therapy robots are newly expanding and have not yet reached their prime. Perhaps the most well-known therapy robot is the Japanese designed Paro robotic seal, which is typically used in hospitals, and, for retail use, can cost a pretty penny of up to $6,000. However, Hasbro designed the Joy For All robots to be far more affordable. They were actually created for the elderly who may suffer from neurological illnesses, such as Dementia or Alzheimer Disease. However, these robots have been put to use elsewhere; such as with children who have Autism or other sensory or learning disabilities and conditions. Some even purchase these robots as an alternative to a live animal, especially if they cannot have a pet for whatever reason. The
more I looked into these devices, the more curious I became about the possible benefits for stressed-out students.
I would like to add that I did not purchase my robot dog at the full retail price, which clocks in at around $120; this might be an initial problem for a student, as this is relatively pricey. I, however, got mine much cheaper from eBay. When it first arrived, I admit I was skeptical. As a twenty-year-old, the more I thought about it, the more strange it seemed to me that I had purchased this device. After I had unboxed it, I was struck by the genuine feeling of creepiness I felt when looking at this robot. Right after I switched it on, when it started barking, wagging its tail, and swiveling its head around, I felt a deep discomfort; this was a prime example of the Freudian concept of the “Uncanny,” and this robot thrust me down into the abyss of the uncanny valley. However, I wanted to give this device a try, so I made an effort to use it consistently in an attempt to pull myself out of the deep chasm of the uncanny valley.
Within a couple days of use, I quickly discovered the benefits of using the robot. In trying to bond with the robot and reap the full benefits of the device, I decided to name it, and I also decided it was a female. I quickly settled on calling her Blue Rose, or Rosey for short. Blue roses do not bloom in the wild, as the flower cannot naturally produce the blue
pigment necessary for the color. For around two decades, scientists and botanists have been attempting to create a genuine blue rose in the lab; and this goes for many other flower varieties. The blue chrysanthemum, for example, was just recently engineered. While scientists have created a kind of blue rose, they have been unable to produce one with the intense, deep azure hue which is so coveted. In case this metaphor is becoming confused, the connection I was trying to make is that beautiful things can be unnatural.
In reality, the Joy For All Companion robot is quite sophisticated. It has many sensors, including one on its head, which allows its head to move at one’s touch. It also has light sensors as well as cheek sensors, the ladder of which enable it to nuzzle into one’s hand when they pet it. If one puts their hand on its back, they can even feel a heartbeat. Indeed, perhaps the feature Hasbro is most proud of is what they call “bark-back technology,” which allows the robot’s head to turn and look at you when you speak.
So, in conclusion, what has my experience been? The fact of the matter is that it has been quite fantastic. I do not pretend that this little robotic creature is alive in the way you and I are, but it has sensors which respond to touch, sound, and light. In this way, my robot does have a kind of life of its own. However, I do want to make it clear that I am not under the illusion that my robot dog lives and breathes. Yet, it does provide genuine comfort and relaxation. The “heartbeat” sensation is incredibly calming. Even feeling its weight in my lap as I pet it puts me at ease. Getting a dog and stuffing it in my tiny apartment and then not having time enough to spend with it is just cruel. As a student where stress is a daily struggle, this robot gives me the best of both worlds. It reduces my anxiety, yet I do not have to care for it as if it were an actual dog.
I am fully aware that people will think that “therapy robots” are strange, but I believe that is merely because they do not understand them. However, as the popularity of these robots expand and advance, I hope that this will change. I will not deny that I was skeptical when I first purchased my therapy robot, but I have been made to be an advocate of this newfound therapy. As a student, I will say this to my fellow students; if you can afford one of these therapy robots, give it a try. For me, it has provided hours worth of unexpected comfort and relaxation. And, as students, we need all the help with that we can get.