Tombot Was Inspired By My Mother, Nancy Stevens
by Tombot Robotics
I’m Tom Stevens, CEO and Co-Founder of Tombot. We are a California-based company that has created a revolutionary way for patients to continue loving and be loved by a pet without the responsibilities of caring for a furry friend.
Our solution – Jennie.
My personal experience has shown me how difficult it is for seniors with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia forms to take care of a pet. That experience spurred me to launch Tombot in 2017 to serve people incapable of taking care of a live animal companion while enjoying the full benefits of having one.
Here’s my story…
It All Started With Golden Bear
One of the most difficult decisions I’ve had to make was taking away my mom’s dog.
When my mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s mild cognitive impairment and her circle of friends and activities reduced, Golden Bear - her boisterous goldendoodle puppy - was an increasingly critical companion as she dealt with independence loss. Unfortunately, when she progressed to Alzheimer’s dementia, she lost the ability to care for herself or her dog.
We finally moved-in a full-time caregiver. My mom was distraught and angry dealing with the idea that she had to depend on another person for even the most basic things in life. Those feelings caused my mother to inadvertently train Golden Bear to be aggressive towards her caregiver. Whenever the caregiver stepped into the room, the dog would growl and bark frightening the caregiver, and my mom would reinforce the behavior by laughing and petting Golden Bear as he did so.
These events led me to make the difficult choice—taking away her dog. Fortunately, we had close family friends that wanted to make a new home for Golden Bear. But that choice was devastating to my mother, and strained our relationship in many ways. Every time I spoke with her she would angrily ask: “Where is my dog? Why can’t I have my dog? When am I getting back Golden Bear?”
Golden Bear was my mother’s best friend, and losing her contributed to mom’s anger, depression, and severe loneliness. I needed to find a solution.
Research showed that dementia patients that form an emotional attachment to stuffed animals or dolls frequently experience reduced behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia (BPSD). I knew my mom could benefit the same, however the dolls and stuffed animals were always too childish for her. She would always respond with, “That’s a child’s toy, that’s not for me. Where is my dog?”
While testing out different things, I thought that a robotic animal could be a viable substitute, however the existing technology was very expensive - over $6,000. I didn’t want to buy something that expensive only to have my mother reject it.
With a background in computers and high-tech, I wondered if I might be able to create something my mother loved, and do so for a reasonable price.
After several years of research and a Master’s in Science from Stanford Business School, I launched Tombot in 2017. A few years later, Jennie was born.
Jennie was Designed to Create an Emotional Bond and Relieve BPSD Symptoms
Peer-reviewed research shows that when a person with dementia can create an emotional bond to objects such as baby dolls or stuffed animals, there is a significant reduction in BPSD symptoms and a reduction in the need for psychotropic medications.
However, few seniors - like my mother - form the required emotional attachment to gain the benefits.
Tombot performed multiple rounds of customers studies with hundreds of seniors with dementia. We learned that seniors prefer realistic appearance and behaviors in objects that are appropriate to their age. This is why it is difficult for many seniors to form an emotional bond to a stuffed animal or doll.
With this knowledge, we knew that our robotic dog needed to look, feel, move, and behave as realistically as possible to promote emotional attachment. To achieve this, we turned to Jim Henson’s Creature Shop, a world-renowned puppet workshop that provides digital visual effects and animatronic creations for the film and advertising industries.
The result of this incredible relationship is a hyper-realistic robotic animal that looks, feels, and acts like a real dog.
My Mom Felt Safer with Jennie
My mother had trouble remembering what she had for breakfast on a given day, but she always remembered I was working on a robot for her. She was the test subject for most of our early prototypes - all of which she named “Bob” - and would always ask if I had another robot for her. This interaction permanently changed our relationship for the better.
One day when she was testing an early prototype she asked what I was naming the company. I said: “I don’t know, what do you think would be a good name?” She said I should call the company “Tom.” We eventually settled on Tombot, a name she loved.
A few years later, my mother fell and broke her leg which resulted in a lengthy hospitalization. If you have loved ones who suffer from dementia, you know that the hospital can be a particularly scary and unsettling place that can heighten BPSD symptoms.
My mom was no different. Whenever a medical professional would enter her hospital room, she would scream in terror believing they were there to hurt her worse. It was so bad that the hospital personnel had to resort to physical restraints just to get anywhere near her.
After a couple of days of this, I brought my mom’s prototype robot into the hospital for her. The results were immediate.
My mom would clutch her robot tightly to her chest and say: “Bob is helping me relax.” She was still in pain and unhappy she was in the hospital, but with Bob she was able to cope with her fear. From that point forward she was compliant with the medical professionals and no longer needed the physical restraints.
I Realized my Mom’s Story Was Not Unique
After extensive research, sharing my story, and listening to the stories of others whose loved ones suffered from BPSD, I knew my mom was not unique. I also knew that Jennie was uniquely capable of providing help and relief to those who need her to make them feel safe, just like Bob did for my mom.
I’m sharing my story in hopes people realize that Tombot is much more than a robotics company—it’s a social mission to help friends, family, and communities cope with health adversities. More importantly, I’ve shared my experience to show you that if your loved one is struggling with BPSD, that you are not alone and that there are viable solutions, like Jennie, that can help.
Currently, there are thousands of customers on our waitlist, anxiously waiting for their Jennie. We are working diligently to bring Jennies to all those desperately in need.
As a startup that’s gaining tons of traction, attention, and demand, funding Tombot is an essential element for getting Jennie into those hands.
Please help us bring Jennie to market today by joining us as an investor on StartEngine. If you have any questions about Tombot’s investment opportunity, I encourage you to leave your questions on our StartEngine page, and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible.