Would you own a robotic pet?

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By Simon Engler

Crew members on a mission to Mars or to other planetary bodies will be separated from friends, families, and social stimuli for many years or longer. They will be spending the majority of this time in a highly mentally and physically demanding environment, often with minimal personal space. This creates an environment of constant stress. For that reason it is valuable to provide crew members with outlets that will allow them to not only reduce stress physically but emotionally. It has been well established that domestic pets can provide a great deal of stress relief and create emotional bonds with their owners. At this time it is not practical for domestic animals to accompany long-term space missions, so it is of interest to examine the potential of providing robotic companions. For personnel in isolated environments, it can be surmised that this emotional bond would be of benefit for the well being of the crew member if it can be created.

The goals for this project are to collect data pertaining to the interaction and emotional bonding towards robotic companions. This study will be conducted by providing a series of robotic companions that will be evaluated by their ability to create emotional bonds with crew members, and their efficacy in reducing stress in crew members.

Comparisons will be made between robotic companions that require active or passive interaction. Passive robot companions will require the crew member to approach the robot pet on their own initiative. The robot companion will interact socially with the crew member in effort to a bond. A demanding robot companion will have certain needs that must be provided, otherwise it will make noise and seek out crew members for attention. For a portion of the study crew members will be assigned rotating duties to care for the robot companion.

Three robot companions will be used in this study:

Pleo (shown above) is modelled after a one week old Camarasaurus, a gentle loving plant eater from the late Jurassic period in prehistoric history. PLEO robot companion. Schematic showing the numerous sensors for human interaction. PELO has a C++ SDK which can be coded to modify it’s behaviour.


Romibo offers features that enable broad therapeutic practices established by per-existing successful therapy robots. Romibo responds appropriately to objects in its environment to convey a believable sense of agency. Romibo has been designed to convey agency and expression, respond dynamically to changes in the person and environment, while supporting customization and durability.