The Japanese fascination with gadgets has made Japan a fertile market for companion robots. While Americans debate moral questions related to people becoming emotionally attached to machines, Japanese have pushed ahead with robot therapy experiments in hospitals and nursing homes.

According to initial reports from health care institutions and robotics producers, initial experimentation in Japan has shown promising results. Those who appear to be most benefited by robotic companionship are patients with long-term disabilities that limit their ability to socialize with people beyond the walls of the institution.

Producers of robotic companions admit that their products are only beginning to be adapted to serve in a companion role. Much experimentation remains to be done before the appearance and function of these products is fine tuned. Nevertheless, Japanese institutional demand is on the rise. Institutions that are using companion robots at present include hospitals, nursing homes, and schools.

Japanese consumers have shown a preference for robots that have the appearance and some of the traits of a household pet such as a dog. One of the most promising models to date, called Paro, has the appearance of a baby seal. Paro is different from other robots on the market because it was specifically...

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