Robotic Puppies Bring Joy and Therapy to Patients at Stanford Medicine Children’s Health

Move over Rover, Otis-AI is taking lead. These cheery animatronic puppies strutted, fetched, and played with young patients at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford.

Students from Stanford University School of Engineering robotics team designed the robotic puppies, known as ‘The Pupper Robots,’ as part of their Hands-On college course in developing AI-enabled robot dogs. The students 3D-printed parts to create 30 puppies. In an interdisciplinary research effort with the Stanford Chariot Program, a pediatric immersive technology program that helps calm and distract patients during routine and complex procedures, the University robotics team brought the wobbly metal pups to interact and play with kids at the hospital’s family resource center, Story Corner.

Designed to deliver joy, the rambunctious pups also provided a sense of normalcy to young patients with every step, jump, and dance move – an opportunity to feel connected.

“He reminds me of my own dog at home,” said 12-year-old Tatiana Cobb. “Otis plays around just like my real dog; he is smart and is able to dance with me. He makes me feel like I’m back at home with my own puppy again and not in my room just watching tv and taking medication.”

Tatiana Cobb, 12, walking “Otis,” the robot puppy.

Research has shown there are medical benefits from pet assisted therapy that include lowering and/or stabilizing blood pressure, reducing pain and anxiety, motivating physical activity, and encouraging communication. Thomas Caruso, MD, pediatric anesthesiologist and co-director of the CHARIOT Program at Stanford Medicine Children’s Health, hopes The Pupper Robots will provide those same benefits to pediatric patients staying in the hospital.

“Seeing these children come down from their patient rooms to interact with these robotic puppies brought all of us immense amount of joy,” said Caruso. “Our pet therapy program is phenomenal, but we only have so many dogs to go around. Our hope is with these robot dogs we may be able to offer a different tool for providers that will have a similar affect with our patients as they do with our pet therapy dog.”

For Stanford University students, this was another learning opportunity outside the classroom. “One of the parents suggested we put a leash on the robot and let the patient walk it outside, so we did that and they reacted so positively – like they were walking a real dog,” said Gabrael Levine, Stanford University Computer Science student and lead instructor. “That was something we didn’t think about before, so we’re learning too.”

Another added upside – these mighty robotic pups require little to no upkeep, just the occasional battery charge.

The Stanford University School of Engineering robotics team and Stanford Medicine Children’s Health Chariot Program team posing with the Robot Puppers: L-R: Liana Tilton, Alex Hattori, Dr. Samuel Rodriguez, Jaden Clark, Craig Yamaguchi, Gabrael Levine, and Dr. Tom Caruso.” (Credit: Alex Kekauoha)


2 Responses to “Robotic Puppies Bring Joy and Therapy to Patients at Stanford Medicine Children’s Health”

  1. Antonia Green

    I absolutely love it! What a wonderfully, insightful gift to provide to the children and I am sure even other patients would enjoy them as well!


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