Scientists Explore Developing Canine-Inspired Androids for Better Bonding with Humans

According to a recent article in Science Daily, “Robots with social behaviors have been proposed as a potential solution to ease people’s loneliness and the challenges of aging. Given the difficulty of creating robots that behave like humans, and the known benefits of the bond between owners and their dogs, some researchers are exploring the possibility of developing dog-inspired robots that can form similar bonds with humans.”

The article goes on to explain that the endeavor requires a deeper understanding of specific dog behaviors that facilitate human-dog bonds before they can successfully build machines that would be able to emulate them. While it may be a long and difficult task, they couldn’t have chosen a better role model for the project.

Photo: Pixabay/tmeier1964

Benefits of Pet Ownership

It’s no secret that owning a pet, particularly a dog, comes with a number of health benefits that are both physical and mental in nature. The Animal Health Foundation lists more physical activity, less stress, lower blood pressure, lower risk of heart attack, the alleviation of depression, allergy prevention in kids, and a lower risk of stroke, among others.

But their ability to detect sadness or physical pain and react with gentle sympathy is probably the most striking trait that comes to mind. The late, great Doris Day summed it up best when she said, “I have found that when you are deeply troubled, there are things you get from the silent devoted companionship of a dog that you can get from no other source.”

golden retriever
Photo: Pixabay/minka2507

Building a Better Robot

There are a few breeds that instantly come to mind that seemingly ooze compassion, but we’re betting the golden retriever might be one that they’d definitely want to study. In order to gain a deeper insight into human-dog bonds, Katie Riddoch of the University of Glasgow and her colleagues conducted a survey of 153 dog owners. Participants were asked open-ended questions about which dog behaviors they believed were vital in establishing and maintaining strong bonds with their dogs.

The respondents described an array of key behaviors, like their dog nudging them with a paw or looking back at them during walks, which facilitates the perception that the animal is behaving protectively or checking in with the pet parent.

Photo: Pixabay/koshinuke_mcfly

The Human-Animal Bond

In analyzing the various responses, scientists were able to identify seven core components of behavior that pet owners felt were crucial. They included attunement, communication, consistency and predictability, physical affection, positivity and enthusiasm, proximity, and shared activities that are important parts of the human-animal bond.

The takeaway researchers came up with is that incorporating these types of behaviors into robotic systems could assist in developing robots that could provide the same type of emotional fulfillment and mental health benefits for humans as bonding with a canine. According to the paper, the next step will be to conduct experiments where humans interact with robotic canines programmed to behave like real doggos. The results should be interesting.

People, Pets & Planet

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