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Published on: February 26, 2015
by Sean Poulter for Daily Mail:
She purrs and meows like any normal cat.
But she doesn’t make any mess and her detachable fur can even be put in the washing machine.
The JustoCat has been developed by academics in Sweden to offer comfort, pleasure and peace of mind to people suffering with dementia.
While she may look like a cuddly toy, the inventors insist she is much more like a medical device and, as such, she comes with a hefty price tag of around £1,000.
The technology is the result of a partnership between health care researchers at Mälardalen University in Sweden and robotics experts at the Robotdalen company.
The creator, Professor Lars Asplund, said she is now being released for sale across Europe and her benefits are so great that she might even be prescribed by doctors.
The professor in computer science said the project started with a study of people with dementia and involved trials and interviews with carers.
He said: ‘The care-givers used JustoCat as a tool for relaxation, to calm down the patient with dementia and as a distraction to help deal with agitation that might disturb other patients.
‘The cat encourages and stimulates communication, she allows the patients to recall memories of their own cats and distracts repetitive behaviour.’
The professor said: ‘The functions of JustoCat means it resembles a live cat in many ways in that it breathes, purrs and meows.
‘One advantage with the cat’s fur is that it is washable and above all is removable and thus can meet hygiene requirements in an institution.’
The robotic cat is about the same size and weight as a normal cat, and comes in grey or black and white, however it doesn’t move beyond the impression it is breathing.
Professor Asplund said: ‘JustoCat can provide peace, be soothing and be a tool for increased interaction and communication.
‘It is a complement in the care of people with dementia and in the care of people with intellectual disabilities. Tests and research demonstrates positive results from the users, as well as patients and care-givers.
‘The goal of JustoCat is to enrich the daily lives of people with dementia. It can provide increased psychological, physical and social well-being.’
Importantly, he said the cat also provides some respite to nurses and carers because dementia suffers who take to her are generally calmer and easy to communicate with.
He defended the high cost saying: ‘This is not a toy. You can buy a toy much cheaper, but it will not have the same effect.
It is classified as a class one medical device class and therefore a doctor can prescribe it. It is hygienic, a toy is not.’
The robotic cat is already available in several countries in Europe and the company is planning to meet a potential British distributor this week.
The development is the latest evidence as to how robotics will increasingly be used in the future to provide practical help in the home as well as psychological support, particularly to the elderly.
British academics recently revealed their part in the development of the Care-O-bot 3, which is both a home help and a friend to older people who may be ill, or feel trapped and alone at home.
The robot is the result of a collaboration between British and European academics under the umbrella of ACCOMPANY – Acceptable Robotics Companions for Ageing Years.
The hope is that it will help older people to stay in their homes and live an independent life, rather than being moved miles away from friends and family into an expensive care home.
The team, which is co-ordinated by Dr Farshid Amirabdollahian, (correct) of the University of Hertfordshire, have combined a robot ‘butler’ and software from a range of experts to deliver Care-O-bot 3.
Importantly, the machine does far more than fetching and carrying, for it has been programmed to be a friend, providing emotional support to someone living alone.
It will suggest activities to motivate people who otherwise might spend their day, parked in a chair in front of a TV, never speaking to anyone – and it will call for help if they are in trouble.
The LCD screen offers images of a face that is smiling and happy when a task has been successful and will look downcast or sad when there is a problem, such as the user forgetting to take their medication.
It will also provide the social interaction, someone to talk to, that will help people stave off loneliness and depression.
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