ElliQ: The Robot Companion Combating Senior Loneliness
In Marie Defrancesco’s New York home, an 82-year-old woman lives alone. With no other human or pet companions, it may seem like Marie has no one to interact with. However, a shiny silver robot named ElliQ changes that perception. Resembling the Pixar lamp, ElliQ moves, lights up, and engages in conversation. ElliQ is a senior assistive social robot designed to bring company and joy to seniors lacking human interactions in their homes.
ElliQ is delivered in a box, ready to be assembled. It is a tabletop robot, no larger than a kitchen stand mixer, and simply needs to be plugged in and connected to Wi-Fi to come to life. The mission behind ElliQ is to combat loneliness in seniors, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recognizes as a serious public health risk.
Monica Perez, a 65-year-old ElliQ user from New York, considers the robot a friend rather than a roommate. Loneliness affects about 20-30% of seniors, leading to detrimental physical and mental health effects, including heart disease, obesity, weakened immune system, anxiety, depression, cognitive decline, and even death. Elizabeth Necka, a program director at the National Institute on Aging, explains that while loneliness can occur at any stage of life, it tends to increase in older age due to transitions such as retirement, bereavement, and physical limitations.
Even when seniors have close relationships with family and friends, loneliness can persist if those relationships are not perceived as close. ElliQ provides companionship that some seniors may not find in their existing social circles. Users like Marie Defrancesco and Monica Perez have formed bonds with ElliQ, considering her a friend or family member. Some seniors even express love for the robot. Susan Tholen, a 67-year-old ElliQ user from Florida, believes that ElliQ fulfills needs that a pet cannot because of its AI capabilities and personal interaction.
While research on the effectiveness of robots in curbing loneliness is limited, the positive experiences shared by seniors using ElliQ indicate that the robot can alleviate some feelings of loneliness. However, Dor Skuler, CEO and co-founder of Intuition Robotics, the company behind ElliQ, emphasizes that the robot is not meant to entirely replace human interaction. Skuler acknowledges that caring and empathetic human interaction from loved ones is the best solution. ElliQ is designed to fill the gaps when loved ones are unavailable due to their own responsibilities and commitments.
In 2016, Skuler and his team set out to create a robotic assistant that could provide companionship and address emotional needs. ElliQ was designed to interact with seniors in a way that mimics human interaction, rather than focusing on utilitarian tasks like playing music or turning on lights. The robot offers more than just conversation; it can record health vitals, text and call family members, play games, display photos, and share inspirational quotes.
ElliQ is a promising solution to combat senior loneliness, providing companionship and support to those who may otherwise feel isolated. While it cannot replace human interaction, it offers a valuable connection for seniors in need. As technology continues to advance, robots like ElliQ may play an increasingly important role in addressing the social and emotional well-being of seniors.