In 1989, the University of Massachusetts conducted some programmes with a group of institutionalized elderly residents in an attempt to analyze the impacts of pet-keeping on elderly. In their report, it was concluded that "the elderly residents reported less depression, anxiety, anger, fatigue and confusion, compared to the control residents" (Robinson 28). First of all, it was found that pet-keeping has positive impacts on elderly people "who have lost friends and family members, especially if they lack children or employment to draw them into community services" (Robinson 19). Second of all, pets are found to be able to "confer a role or identity on an individual". Thus, pet-keeping brings positive impacts to those "whose life has revolved around professional, spousal and parental roles which may be lost as the person ages" (Robinson 19). Thirdly, when key losses (such as death of a spouse) take place and jeopardize a senior's well-being, pet-keeping may reduce stress (Robinson 20). And at last but not least, pet animals play "motivating roles" to seniors and help "older people in providing nurturance to others and in participating in activities" (Robinson 20).
Unfortunately, it is observed that many seniors live independently and "have difficulties in keeping up with the various responsibilities of pet care" (Robinson 29).
Based on all these, City of Ikeda in Japan has started a five-year project called "Robobear". Under this project, seniors who live alone are each given a robot bear, which is electronically connected to a central call center. The robot bears can recognize some short phrases and give some standard responses to seniors who talk to them. The robot bears are also capable of singing songs and making some simple movements. But most importantly, the robot bears are very sensitive to some health-condition related phrases and words, like "I am tired" or, "I am sick". They will automatically signal the call center representatives when they recognize such words or phrases, and the seniors may then talk to the representatives directly through the bear. In case of emergency, the call center representatives may call the police and send ambulances to the seniors' homes. (
As the project is still in its first phrase at the moment, there are not yet any published reports that show the results of the project. Some say that the robot bears are better than real pets because independent seniors could now be accompanied by pets without having to worry about them. On the other hand, some feel that these virtual pets could never replace real pets, as they do not bring any therapeutic benefits that real pets bring to their owners (as mentioned above). Nevertheless, there is not doubt that the Robobear has defied the distinction between human and machine, as well as machine and animals.

See bibliography for photo credits.

Robobear of Ikeda City, Japan:

All robobears are connected to a central call center:

Robobear is capable of singing songs, talking, and making some small movements:

Go back to see other flying postmodern virtual pets...