What if there was a friendly voice ready to greet seniors every morning, even if they live alone?
A device named after the Norse goddess of aging – Elli – has her sensors set on doing just that, combatting loneliness and social isolation by providing companionship.
Created by Israel-based Intuition Robotics, ElliQ greets her owner in the morning, offers a reminder about taking medicines and discusses the headlines of the day – all unprompted by a human. The technology relies on sensors that can recognize faces, sense activity, talk through natural language processing and make decisions about conversations using artificial intelligence.
On a typical morning, ElliQ might ask how her owner slept. Depending on the answer, she might suggest wellness activities such as breathing or gratitude exercises. Owners can also initiate interactions by looking at the device or saying “ElliQ” and asking a question. To ensure its ease of use by the least tech-savvy seniors, the company designed ElliQ with no buttons and an ability to self-diagnose problems and suggest ways to fix them.
“We try to make it all very intuitive to take away any of that intimidation that comes with technology”
“We try to make it all very intuitive to take away any of that intimidation that comes with technology,” said Brian Shulman, director of business development at Intuition Robotics, which has offices in San Francisco.
ElliQ has three physical parts: a base, a tablet-like screen, and a robotic neck and head that can swivel and has LED lights designed to give the sense that the device is emoting. Family members and friends can videoconference and message their loved one via ElliQ by downloading the ElliQ app on their Apple or Android devices.
For caregivers, that connection can be very valuable. The device learns users’ typical patterns and reports anomalies to emergency contacts programmed into the system. If Mom is usually in the vicinity of ElliQ by 9:30 a.m. and hasn’t shown up by 10, the device can send an alert. It’s not set up to call 911, but it can let family members know what’s happening. Or if a loved one wants to check in on the ElliQ user, they can open the app and it will say, “Mom is around.” ElliQ can sense activity within about 32 feet and recognize faces within about 6 to 10 feet.
Powering these capabilities is Q, the cognitive artificial intelligence platform the company built to enable ElliQ’s sensors to understand its environment, make decisions and act on them. Its ability to do that, as well as initiate conversations and literally move to follow a user, distinguish the technology from digital assistants such as Amazon’s Alexa and Google Home.
For Intuition Robotics founders, the technology is personal. The trio, Roy Amir, Itai Mendelsohn and Dor Skuler, were longtime coworkers in the telecommunications industry and caregivers to parents or grandparents when they founded the company in 2015. They noticed a lack of tools to encourage socializing among the many devices for the physical and medical sides of aging.
Since coming out of stealth mode in 2017, the company has won awards including the Best of Innovation award for the Smart Home category at last year’s CES, a trade show held by the Consumer Technology Association.
The company is accepting pre-orders for use at home or independent and assisted living communities, and expects to start shipping ElliQ this summer. The device costs $1,499, including a 12-month subscription that will cost $35 to $50 per month after that.
The first commercial units are going to the Center for Aging and Brain Health Innovation for a study of how ElliQ affects loneliness and social isolation in 100 residents of independent and assisted living centers in Toronto and the San Francisco area.
Beta tests with about a dozen users indicate the experience will be positive, Shulman said.
“Our users are saying it’s an entity, it’s a companion, it’s a friend, it’s a sidekick,” he said. “It’s really, really important not to underestimate the value of having a companion.”
Stephanie Kanowitz is a Fairfax, Va.-based freelance writer, fitness instructor, mother and caregiver to her mother, who was diagnosed with dementia in 2012. Stephanie earned journalism degrees from the University of Florida (bachelor’s) and American University (master’s), and her work has appeared in The Washington Post, Washington Post Express, Red Tricycle, the Washington Diplomat and the Kveller blog.