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Man Invents Lifelike Robot Dog To Comfort Dementia Patients

Amy Pilkington 20 Dec 2019

Suffering from Alzheimer's or other forms of dementia is an awful experience, as is being a family member or friend of someone who has it. A bright, outgoing personality can seem to wither and contract into itself until the person you are or the one you love seems like a shell of themselves.

We often forget about the effect on the furry family members too, but Tom Stevens saw it first hand.

In 2011, Tom's mom Nancy was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s dementia.

YouTube | Tombot

She had a golden-doodle pup named Golden Bear, but it quickly became apparent that Nancy could no longer care for her beloved pet. When her dementia symptoms resulted in the confused dog being "trained" to attack Nancy's caregiver, Tom was forced to find Golden Bear a new home.

It was for the best, but the loss of her beloved dog just increased Nancy's descent into loneliness and depression.

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Tom has invested in robotics before and wondered if there was a way to make a robotic pooch seem real enough to help people like his mom.

YouTube | Tombot

The positive effects of animals on dementia patients is well documented, but actually providing animal companionship to them in a safe way, where and when they need it is difficult.

Trained therapy dogs only come occasionally and most care homes don't have the ability to support caring for an on-site animal.

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So Tom teamed up with the Jim Henson's Creature Workshop to create a prototype for his new Tombot venture.

YouTube | Tombot

That prototype is called "Jennie". The little dog can't walk and needs to be carried on a pillow, but she's got tons of interactive features.

Jennie will move and react to where she is touched, waging her tail and tilting her head. Her "voice" is comprised of real recordings of Labrador puppies.

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Jennie's interactions can be managed and tracked via a smartphone app, which makes her easy for families or caregivers to manage.

YouTube | Tombot

And there's no poop to pick up or kibble to buy. Just recharge her when needed.

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During testing, Tom took her to the Sage Mountain nursing home in Thousand Oaks, California.

A spokesperson for the nursing home, Caroline Gibson, told Reuters, "The dog is very interactive, the tail wagging, responding to them calling her name. It’s really amazing to watch them have a lot of ease and reduce anxiety."

Puppies cost $449 and the first "litter" has already sold out with a ship date in 2020, but you can reserve your place for the next batch at the Tombot website.

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