Robotics

This New Robot Offers Company and Care to the Elderly

A new companion robot called ElliQ is helping elders stay connected to the world.

One of the biggest challenges many older adults face is loneliness. Nearly one-third of America's aging population lives alone, and because mobility is often difficult, getting out of the house for social engagements can sometimes seem impossible.

A new robot designed by Fuseproject, in collaboration with a team at Intuition Robotics, might just help older people feel a little less lonely.

Intuition Robotics, a startup specializing in social companion technologies, emerged from stealth to unveil ElliQ Wednesday, and is set to display it at London's Design Museum in a new exhibit called New Old.

ElliQ is a robotic companion with high emotional intelligence. It was designed to keep older people connected to technology, help them continue learning as they age, and potentially ease their loneliness.

"Ageism is rampant in our culture and many older adults report becoming invisible with age. This invisibility fosters feelings of loneliness even when surrounded by others," Kyrié Carpenter, a counselor psychologist and a non-fiction theater performer in Bill Thomas' Changing Aging Tour, told Seeker.

Carpenter emphasized that society often segregates elders from younger people, which worsens their loneliness.

"Just as with segregation on other diversity lines, the richness of life is diminished when we are only surrounded with people like us. This segregation exacerbates loneliness for all," she said.

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According to Fuseproject's website, ElliQ is designed to look good on a tabletop, while it also features subtle animations to bring it to life.

ElliQ speaks in natural, comfortable language and is intended to address the specific needs of older adults. It uses a software called Coach that listens to what the user wants to achieve, whether it be moving more, learning about a specific topic, or just staying connected to friends and family.

The robot can prompt you to call a friend or relative, read a book or watch a TED talk. If the weather is nice, it might suggest a walk. The idea is to maintain people's social and mental activity, which is crucial in preventing cognitive decline as we age.

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"Products like ElliQ's help alleviate loneliness when they connect us to loved ones who are far away, when they help us remember resources within our community and access them, and when they make technological resources more accessible to people of differing abilities," she told Seeker.

Carpenter points to this blog post by a man with dementia who uses Amazon Echo to help him remember things.

Other features of ElliQ include a screen called Connector that allows you to message or call people and connect to social media. Engager lets you play music and videos or listen to audiobooks. And Lookout is a monitoring device that can allow care partners to check in.

The Companion feature is likely the most unique part of ElliQ. Companion uses "speech, lighting, sound, images and movement to subtly convey emotion, showing understanding and support," the site says.

While Companion may seem like it has the most potential to make users feel less alone, Carpenter sees ElliQ's ability to connect older and younger people as the technology's most crucial element.

"De-segregation is the single biggest thing we need to do to alleviate loneliness for olders and youngers alike. We need to have cross-generational contact," she said. "Products like this one which make these tech advances accessible are imperative. The best part is these improvements aren't just for elders, they are for the entire aging population... because we are all aging."

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