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Meet Paro, the therapeutic robot seal

By Marsha Walton

Paro was developed by Japan's National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology.
Paro was developed by Japan's National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology.

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CNN's Daniel Sieberg talks to the editor of PC Magazine about some standout products at the Comdex convention. (November 20)
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LAS VEGAS, Nevada (CNN) -- Hot technology doesn't usually come in a soft and cuddly package. But one of the ten winners of PC Magazine's "Best of Comdex" awards is warm, fuzzy and filled with therapeutic possibilities.

Paro is a harp seal stuffed animal robot, developed by Japan's National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology. Engineer Takanori Shibata said Paro prototypes are being tested in Japan and Sweden at nursing homes, and with autistic and handicapped children.

"We know that pet therapy helps physically, psychologically and socially, and Paro does the same thing for people who are unable to care for a live pet," said Shibata.

Surface tactile sensors beneath its fur and whiskers trigger Paro to move and respond to petting: eyes open and close, flippers move. Just holding and stroking the critter has a calming effect, as Comdex (Computer Dealer Expo) visitors who checked it out soon discovered.

"We found nursing home residents also opened up and talked with each other about pets they had owned," said Shibata. And, he said, their stress levels went down.

Paro may soon be tested in children's hospitals in the United States. It's expected to cost between $2,500 and $3,000.

PC Magazine's editors and lab analysts scoured more than 550 exhibits on the show floor at the Las Vegas Convention Center to come up with the "Best of" winners.

In the gadget category, the Shanghai, China-based company Visart won with what the judges described as "TV on the go."

TV in the tub

For people who want to lounge on the deck or soak in the tub but can't tear themselves away from the tube, the Visart Wireless Mobile TFT LCD TV provides a wireless alternative.

"You can pick it up and use it anywhere, play a DVD anywhere in the house or out in the backyard within a 30 foot radius," said Michael Miller, editor in chief of PC Magazine.

A wireless transmitter connects to a video source and the signal is transmitted to a 17-inch screen. Battery life is about six hours.

The Hewlett Packard Media Center PC claimed "Best of" honors in the Desktop Computing Category. Judges said it's a streamlined package that lets users mix and match their TV, music, video and digital photo resources. The device has a dock holder for a digital camera, plus a DVD recorder.

Microsoft's Small Business Server 2003 was awarded Comdex Best of Show. There has been concern about the future of Comdex.

At the height of the technology boom more than 200,000 tech types wandered both huge halls of the Vegas Convention Center and made deals there and in nearby hotels. This year the scaled-back show has attracted about 50,000 people.

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