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U.S. researchers test a cuddly robot seal made in Japan to alleviate astronaut stress with eyes on Mars


U.S. researchers test a cuddly robot seal made in Japan to alleviate astronaut stress with eyes on Mars

TOKYO – Living in space can be stressful, and scientists in the United States want to see if they can alleviate some of that stress by using a Japanese invention: a cuddly robot seal known for its calming properties.

Experiments to lessen stress in enclosed spaces like spacecraft have focused on the baby harp seal-like Paro, which was developed in November of last year. The international non-profit Mars Society, based in Colorado, is working with NASA and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to carry out the tests.

The experiments are a step toward the human exploration of Mars that is planned for the 2030s and beyond. To do so, astronauts will have to spend several years in space.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency estimates that a trip to Mars and back will take approximately three years, including the time required for Mars exploration. As they spend time in a cramped spacecraft or the base camp on Mars, astronauts may experience high levels of stress, according to some concerns.

Since 2002, the Mars Society has been studying the effects on human health of prolonged stays in closed environments. For the tests on mental healthcare for astronauts, Paro was chosen.

It is 57 centimetres long and 2.6 kilograms in weight to be used as a therapeutic device in the United States. Paro, an animal with artificial intelligence, mews and blinks its eyes in response to human touch.

It was recognized as the robot with the “greatest reduction in stress levels” by Guinness World Records in 2002. The robot was utilized in the mental health care of Ukrainian refugees following the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The Mars Society and Takanori Shibata, Paro’s inventor and chief senior researcher at the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, claim that the society’s Utah lab hosted the initial experiments from November 13 to November 26.

Intelligent System Co., a Nanto, Toyama Prefecture-based manufacturer and distributor of electronic components, supplied the Paro used in the experiments.

The pulse and heart rate of six women were measured in two groups, with one group spending time with Paro and the other having no contact. Together with NASA, the Mars Society will look at the journals and data of test participants to see if the robot helps them feel less stressed.

This year, additional experiments are planned in waters around Australia and in Poland.

Shibata stated, “These tests are the first step.” We want to think about developing [Paro] for space applications.

“It is an intriguing experiment,” stated Shinichi Kimura, a professor at Tokyo University of Science who is an authority on astronaut stress. Stress can be reduced by having something around you that can talk to you and respond to you.

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