Researchers at Mississippi State University’s Social, Therapeutic and Robotic Systems (STaRS) lab are close to releasing Therabot, an interactive robotic beagle that scientists hope will help victims of post-traumatic stress disorder. The idea came about when trying to find a more affordable and safer alternative to using live dogs in therapy sessions for those with PTSD, while providing an interactive experience that is more satisfying and effective than the usual substitute of a stuffed animal.
Therabot is a robotic beagle that victims of PTSD will be able to love and interact with during abuse-counselling and home therapy sessions. Designed by researchers at STaRS lab under the direction of Dr. Cindy Bethel, the dog’s many features were determined largely from input by specialized clinicians, as well as victims of PTSD. Equipped with the latest technology, Therabot will respond directly to a patient’s actions, able to nuzzle and pet patients who seek comfort and love in their times of need. What’s more, the Therabot will be able to provide animal-assisted therapy to those who are allergic to or afraid of interacting with live dogs, while providing them with the interaction that is lacking in the typical stuffed-dog substitute.
In a survey, STaRS lab asked 1045 people what kind of animal they would prefer. Choices included a teddy bear (the expected favorite), a frog, cat, variations of different dogs, and some other more abstract, non-animal shapes, such as a ball with arms and legs. According to their report, a dog with floppy ears and a coloration similar to that of a beagle won the competition by a landslide.
What Can it Do?
Therabot will be able to move and make realistic sounds as direct responses to human signals, such as being pet and talked to. It is equipped with dynamic, moveable joints, as well as a segmented tail in order to provide patients with all the loving and realistic interaction of a live dog. Additionally, Therabot’s fur includes sensors that tell the beagle how hard or soft a person is petting it, as well as where exactly it’s being pet, as to respond appropriately and realistically to a person’s touch, cuddling and whimpering their ways into patient’s hearts.
Benefits of Animal-Assisted Therapy
PTSD is a mental illness that is caused by traumatic events in a person’s life, including time spent in combat, and cases of assault and abuse. These events often leave victims unable to emotionally handle their experiences. Most victims have an especially hard time avoiding emotional and memory-triggers, which spark moments of reliving the past traumatic event or events.
Organizations such as the American Humane Association Studies have done countless studies on the benefits of animal-assisted therapy (AAT) for some time now—the results of which have consistently shown it to be beneficial to patients’ overall health. Even short periods of interaction between patients and animals have shown signs of reduced stress, anxiety, depression in those suffering from a wide range of illnesses and diseases, including PTSD.
Therabot is planned to be officially released next summer, as the prototype still needs some fixing up.
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