JFC Hosts Japanese Professor with his Invention



By: Norhan Mahmoud

CAIRO, Nov. 19 (SEE)-  The Japan Foundation in Cairo (JFC) habitually presents a lot of art programs but last night was exceptional as Professor Takanori Shibata along with his innovation ‘Paro’ were hosted for an enlightening seminar.

Professor Shibata is the Chief researcher at the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST).

Firstly, to enrich your spirit of inquiry the term ‘Paro’ stands for ‘Personal Robot’ as pronounced in Japanese.

The fluffy seal is a neurological  therapeutic medical robot, for non-pharmacological therapy that aids patients with disabilities especially dementia.

‘Paro’ was listed as the world’s most therapeutic robot in the Guinness book in 2002 and has met officials including the Queen of Spain and former US President Barack Obama who said: “Paro is very nice.”

Talking to ‘SEE,’ Prof. Shibata noted that although the robot is mostly used to aid elders, he gets touched when ‘Paro’ encourages little patients to socialize and brings a smile to his/her face. “I visited 57357 Cancer hospital in Egypt and saw a child’s mood improves as he interacted with two ‘Paros.’”

Responding to a question about why the robot is designed as a seal, Prof. Shibata said: “At first cats and dogs prototypes disappointed users as they compared them to real ones but they had no expectations for a seal. It is a cute animal for domestic use.”

It all started in 1993, as the professor recounted: “I read about treatment with animal therapy and was influenced by the various psychological, physical and social improvements it does.”

He then thought: “Animals are very helpful to humans but some people are allergic. Infections and bites also harm people, therefore I thought animal robots would be nice.”

“Externally, ‘Paro’ looks like stuffed animals or a Canadian seal but it internally it holds a lot of technology. ‘Paro’ is a Combination of art and science,” Shibata noted.

‘Paro’ is 55 cm long, weighs 2.5 kilograms and have various sensors; 3 microphones, light sensor, posture sensor and the whole  body is covered with touch sensor.

Thanks to artificial intelligence, ‘Paro’ can learn names and behaviors, “If you name him then call him out, he will answer you back.”

The robot changes its character to adapt to its user’s needs. Take care as Paro is a bit sensitive; hitting annoys it while gentle patting cheers it. 

Over the years, the inventor learned a lot from users’ feedback and developed the 9th generation of ‘Paro’ to be more therapeutic and practical to be used for 10 years or more. “‘Paro’ has been modified to help patients diagnosed with autism, down syndrome, cancer, mental disorders and rehabilitation of swallowing.”

“Japan is the fastest aging population in the world it is called an ultra aged society as more than 28% of its population is over 65 year-Old. We suffer manpower shortage thus the Japanese government relies on robots to improve the daily lives of elderly,” the Japanese professor pointed out.

Globally 15 million persons suffer aging problems including dementia. Their treatment cost is $1 trillion in 2018 and by 2030 the cost will double.  By 2050, most countries will be categorized as aged which means that more than 14% of its populations is over 65 years-old- Egypt is not one of them, forever youthful society.

Currently, almost 3000 robots are used in more than 30 countries and the invention has been showcased in museums across Europe and the United States of America.

People with dementia encounter aging memory, behavior and emotions problems. They may get up at night and walk, “we need a monitoring system for their safety but ‘Paro’ improves mental issues.”

Research has proven that interaction with ‘Paro’ improves the quality of life, alleviates anxiety, pain, stress and encourages engagement and sociability. “Most importantly it does not have the side effects of antidepressants.”

“Scientifically, only two minutes of cleaning with wet wipes are required to assure ‘Paro’ is free of bacteria,” Shibata said.

’Paro’ was manufactured in Toyama, a city renowned in Japan for its handmade products. “Each ‘Paro’ is handmade, if you visit the factory, you will notice that each one has different features.”

Unfortunately, ‘Paro’ costs € 5000 and can even be more expensive when used for medical purposes, making it non-affordable to many.

The ambitious professor hopes that ‘Paro’ would accompany astronauts in their years-long missions to avoid loneliness and stress.

In conclusion the professor pointed out that technology is how we use it, “Paro does not replace people but replaces therapy.”


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