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Pet-like robots are attracting attention in Japan as companions for people spending time at home amid the spread of coronavirus infections.

Some such robots, which are designed to comfort and relax users but do not have specific functions to help them, have been sent to care facilities to alleviate the loneliness of residents who have less in-person contact than before due to the pandemic.

The cushion-shaped Qoobo was released by robot maker Yukai Engineering Inc. in 2018. The robot wags its “tail” in line with how strongly it is rubbed by the user.

Inspired by the tails of dogs and cats, the company developed the robot for people who cannot have pets.

According to the company, sales of Qoobo surged after the Japanese government declared its first COVID-19 state of emergency in April last year. One user said the robot goes best with work from home, while another said it is a good partner for naps.

In December 2020, Yukai Engineering released a smaller version of Qoobo that reacts to sounds.

Japanese electronics giant Panasonic Corp. has started developing its Nicobo robot for domestic use under the concept of an “easygoing housemate.”

It is considering the public release of the robot, which is covered with knitted fabric, acquires vocabulary step by step, and sometimes talks while “asleep.”

The National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST), created the seal-shaped Palo robot, which cries and moves to express its “emotions,” from its animal therapy research.

Experiments showed improvements in dementia and depression symptoms among Palo users.

Care facilities for older people have restricted meetings between residents and family members since the COVID-19 outbreak. A number of such facilities and family members have given Palo devices to older people to prevent them from feeling isolated, according to AIST.

Takanori Shibata, a senior researcher at AIST, said that Palo “can conjure up the image of pets (for users) through physical contact.”

Palo can “have deeper relationships with people than conventional stuffed toys, enhance the quality of their lives and have big therapeutic effects,” Shibata said.

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