Kudos for in­ven­tor’s work in de­men­tia field

The Northern Advocate - - Nation -

A Ja­panese in­ven­tor was pre­sented with a $250,000 grant by Prime Min­is­ter Jacinda Ardern yes­ter­day for his pi­o­neer­ing work im­prov­ing the health of older peo­ple with a de­vice pro­grammed to mimic a seal.

Pro­fes­sor Takanori Shi­bata, chief se­nior re­search sci­en­tist at the Na­tional In­sti­tute of Ad­vanced In­dus­trial Sci­ence and Tech­nol­ogy (AIST) in Ja­pan, was pre­sented with the an­nual Ry­man Prize at a re­tire­ment vil­lage in Birken­head, Auck­land for his work to ease the bur­den of older peo­ple suf­fer­ing from de­men­tia.

The prize is an in­ter­na­tional award for the best work car­ried out any­where in the world which has en­hanced qual­ity of life for older peo­ple. It was in­tro­duced by former Prime Min­is­ter John Key in 2015 and was es­tab­lished as an equiv­a­lent of a No­bel Prize.

One of Shi­bata’s prod­ucts named Paro was a drug-free, ther­a­peu­tic ro­bot which used sen­sors, ro­bot­ics and ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence soft­ware to mimic a real seal. The de­vice is proven to im­prove mood, re­duce anx­i­ety, de­crease per­cep­tion of pain, en­hance sleep and de­crease feel­ings of lone­li­ness in pa­tients.

“I am ex­tremely proud to have won the Ry­man Prize,” Shi­bata said.

“It rep­re­sents a lot of work over the past 25 years, but I couldn’t have done it with­out the sup­port of many peo­ple and my fam­ily.”

Paro was first pro­duced in 2005 and has been used in 30 coun­tries. Its pi­o­neer­ing de­sign has been in­cluded in ex­hi­bi­tions at the Vic­to­ria and Al­bert Mu­seum, the Lou­vre and the Mu­seum of Mod­ern Art.

Shi­bata said he set out to cre­ate a drug-free al­ter­na­tive which soothed and re­as­sured pa­tients by re­spond­ing to touch and speech.

“The health chal­lenges faced by older peo­ple are enor­mous and grow­ing but tech­nol­ogy is chang­ing just as quickly,” he said.

“We’ve proved that this is pos­si­ble, and that ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence has huge po­ten­tial for the fu­ture. We’ve pi­o­neered a way of work­ing but there is a lot more work to do.”

Shi­bata’s de­vice was in its ninth gen­er­a­tion and he said he would use the grant money to in­vest in ad­di­tional re­search.

Past win­ners of the Ry­man prize in­cluded Gabi Hol­lows from the Fred Hol­lows Foun­da­tion, Pro­fes­sor Henry Bro­daty for work in the di­ag­no­sis of Alzheimer’s and de­men­tia and Pro­fes­sor Peter St Ge­orge-Hys­lop, a ge­neti­cist who fo­cused on key genes which caused cells to de­gen­er­ate in dis­eases such as ear­lyon­set Alzheimer’s.

PHOTO / SUP­PLIED

Paro is a ro­bot baby seal in­vented by ac­claimed ro­bot de­vel­oper Dr Takanori Shi­bata.

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