SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Tombot, which is developing a robotic service animal aimed to help the lives of seniors suffering from dementia, won the 2019 Pitchfire startup competition at RoboBusiness.
Tombot functions as an emotional attachment object, the company said. Peer-reviewed studies show that when a person with demential can successfully attach to an object — traditionally human baby dolls or teddy bears — they will see a significant reduction in their behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia (BPSD), and a corresponding reduction in their need for psychotropic medications. Improvements in BPSD and the reduced need for psychotropics not only positively affect quality of life, they also correlate with greater life expectancy.
Following years of research and customer testing, Tombot has created a robot that is more visually appealing and entertaining than other objects, but is also scientifically more likely to generate a successful emotional attachment for the senior citizen. In addition, the robotic dog’s design was created with collaboration with the Jim Henson Company to create a more realistic-looking dog.
“Existing research shows that when a senior with dementia can form a robust emotional attachment to an object, traditionally human baby dolls or stuffed animals, that senior gets a marked reduction in their symptoms as well as a reduced need for those psychotropic medications,” said Thomas Stevens, CEO of Tombot. “The problem is very few people form the necessary emotional attachment to traditional objects. Robotic animals significantly outperformed traditional objects, and add the additional benefit of reducing the need for pain medications.”
The audience at Pitchfire clearly resonated with the Tombot demonstration – at one point during the question period with the judges, one of the judges asked if he could pet the dog.
Pitchfire is an annual competition where top robotics industry startups face off against each other in a showcase of innovation, creativity, and technological development. As this year’s winner, Tombot receives a $5,000 cash prize, plus yearlong coverage on Robotics Business Review, and meetings with investors and industry insiders.
Emceed by Gray Bright, CEO of Cloud Transportation Technologies, Pitchfire was judged by Paul Willard of Silicon Valley, Jitendra Kavathekar of Horizon 3 Ventures, Nolan Katter, Associate, Beringer Finance US Inc., and Jay M. Wong of Southie Autonomy (last year’s Pitchfire winner).
In second place was Dusty Robotics, which is building a robot to assist the construction industry on accurate layout plans for buildings; in third place was Anantak Robotics, which is developing an autonomous tugging system for warehouse environments.