Meet Paro, without question the world's most adorable robot. The imitation harp seal was created to soothe hospital and nursing home patients, but we can't imagine any hard heart that could look at its giant batting eyelashes and not feel at least a little bit better. CNN reported on Paro when it first debuted in Japan a few years ago:
"We know that pet therapy helps physically, psychologically and socially, and Paro does the same thing for people who are unable to care for a live pet," said [engineer Takanori Shibata].
Surface tactile sensors beneath its fur and whiskers trigger Paro to move and respond to petting: eyes open and close, flippers move. Just holding and stroking the critter has a calming effect, as Comdex (Computer Dealer Expo) visitors who checked it out soon discovered.
"We found nursing home residents also opened up and talked with each other about pets they had owned," said Shibata. And, he said, their stress levels went down.
Paro has already taken Japan by storm, but Engadget reports that it will soon become available for sale -- at a price we're sad to say is a bit out of our price range -- in the U.S.
From Engadget:
[Paro's American debut will] officially happen at the Robo Business Conference and Expo in Pittsburgh this week, after which the bots will be available "shortly" for $5,000 apiece directly from a new joint venture set up by Japan's Intelligent System Co. and Walter Weisel, a former head of the Robotic Industries Association of the United States. As in Japan, it'll apparently be primarily targeted at nursing care facilities, but we can't help but think that at least a few of the critters will find their way into the hands of some slightly more mischievous individuals as well.
The first run of Paros produced for the American market numbers only 300 -- but can more adorable sealbots be far behind?

Robotic seal "Paro" comes to the U.S. | L.A. Unleashed | Los Angeles Times