When kids and adults alike hear the word “Hasbro,” it’s clearly a company name that has enchanted generations with their line of Transformers action figures and even snuggle stuffed toys like My Little Pony. This year, the toy maker is set to hopefully cuddle up to another set of target market, this being the senior and elderly. On Wednesday, Hasbro introduced its new product that is the first in its 86-year history. The Companion Cat and Companion Golden Retriever Puppy is part of the company’s “Joy for All” line. Each robotic “pet” will be sold for $99 and is programmed to mimic almost all of the real feline’s or puppy’s actions. But according to Ted Fischer, vice president of business development at Hasbro, admits that aside from the senior and elderly adults, Hasbro won’t be surprised if people from 5 to 105 gets to buy the Joy for All pets. About 4 years ago, Hasbro’s market research team accidentally discovered a trend at animal and pet stores. When parents bought a cute cat or puppy, many of them went home to an aging parent or relative.
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This launched the company to start development into the Companion Pet project. Since more elderly adults go for cats, naturally, Hasbro’s first pet to come out was a cat with a choice of three fur colors: orange tabby, silver, and creamy white. Pilot tests also showed that people tend to be engaged with more familiar-looking robots like animals rather than more robotic-human android types. Of course, Hasbro had to make their pets as realistic as possible. For the cat, for instance, they developed a feature called VibraPur that powers the interactive features. When you pet the cat’s left cheek, it will nuzzle its head into your hand. Pet the cat’s back or behind its head and it will purr happily. If you keep petting the cat it will roll on its back you can give it a belly rub. The more you pet the cat the more relaxed it will get until it might close its eyes and snooze. If you leave the cat untouched for a few minutes it will go to sleep. To wake it up simply start petting it again.
Hasbro, actually, isn’t the first to manufacture robotic pets. Sony developed the Aibo dog back in 1999 for the senior Japanese market and developed a devoted following. This got snapped in 2014 when Sony stopped supporting the line. Another Japanese company, Paro, developed a white, fluffy, baby harp seal robot pet that responded to touch. It became a hit as a therapy tool and companion for elderly people with mental health conditions. However, Paro sells for around $5,000, making it unaffordable for average income families. At a time when it’s become normal to rely on AI technology and tools to assist us in work and tasks, it’s no surprise that sophisticated technology can mimic the primal satisfaction of having a dog or cat sitting on your lap. But experts are already picking on the fact that there’s something eerie about how people are willing to outsource the basic human instinct and activity of keeping company to machines.