Being diagnosed with a degenerative disease like Alzheimer's is difficult enough as it is, but for Tom Steven's mother, it provided a double blow. She had started to train the two-year-old goldendoodle to be aggressive to her caretaker, and Tom had to take the animal away and find it a new home.
"My mom was devastated," Stevens told Reuters. "So, I started looking around then for substitutes for live animal companions, didn't find anything that she liked or would respond to, so I started wondering whether technology might be able to play a role."
That's when Stevens started to develop Tombot, a super realistic robot dog with full-body sensors that can respond to sound, touch, and even wag its tail.
On their Kickstarter, the team behind Tombot explains: "To improve the quality of life for people with health problems, it is essential for them to stay emotionally attached and socially engaged. While live animals can serve this role, that is not a safe or practical choice for everyone."
Tombot is "designed to delight and improve the quality of life for anyone who cannot have a live pet." The robot helps to provide valuable companionship, relieve loneliness, and reduce anxiety in patients, just as a real dog would.
"Studies show that robotic animal companions can reduce the need for psychotropic & antipsychotic meds by helping to reduce dementia behaviors," the company explains. "Tombot’s robotic emotional support animals are an invaluable tool for increasing social engagement, and for redirecting 'challenging' behaviors."
But unlike a real dog, Tombot doesn't need to fed or walked, and as such can provide an alternative option when a real animal isn't safe or practical.
The dog is equipped with 16 motors and different movements and is able to tell the difference between a soft and vigorous touch.
Tombot is expected to go on sale in early 2020 for around $450, which is relatively inexpensive compared to robots with similar features. You can already pre-order a dog on Kickstarter, if you're interested.