Companion robots, long promised as a way to stave off loneliness among the elderly, are being tested among children at a hospital in Lisbon, Portugal.
Little Casper is a humanoid robot designed to work with hospitalized children, according to Euronews. The robot, created by the University of Lisbon and project Monarch, is able to detect and navigate the environment around it, talk and play games. As a social robot, Casper is specifically programmed to converse with humans in a friendly manner.
Project coordinator for Monarch João Silva Sequeira told Euronews that when first researching a potential robot, he and his team decided they needed to make a cute one. To come up with an appealing design, Sequeria said they interviewed 100 kids.
“We try to trigger a positive reaction from them,” project researcher Víctor González Pacheco told Euronews. “Doctors tell us that the happier these children are, the faster, the better they recover after treatment. So we want Casper to help children to have fun, to play with them. We want children to establish the kind of relationship with this robot that they could have with a pet, or even a friend.”
This hinges on the idea that people who remain positive when sick fair better than their more pessimistic counterparts. Studies show mixed evidence on this front, according to the American Cancer Society, and the prevailing belief is there isn’t substantive evidence that happiness is connected to survival. Still, there’s no harm in keeping spirits high, especially within a hospital setting.
Researchers hope to bring Casper to more hospitals in the next three years.