CES 2024: Older seniors are happily living with AI—in the form of chatty robot ElliQ

LAS VEGAS — With all the buzz and headlines about artificial intelligence, there is one demographic that is quietly embracing the technology and even building long-term relationships with it. But it's probably not the generation that would first come to mind.

ElliQ, a voice-operated, AI-enabled care companion robot, is gaining traction with older adults, even individuals in their 80s and 90s.

Even Dor Skuler, co-founder and CEO of Intuition Robotics, the maker of ElliQ, is surprised by how easily older seniors have integrated the robot into their lives. After all, this is a demographic that is often stereotyped as being afraid of technology, he noted.

"They are showing the capacity to create a new space for new relationships," Skuler said during an interview at the CES 2024 show this week. In a similar way that people create space for relationships with their pets, older seniors are carving out room to build a connection with an AI-based companion. 

There are now "thousands" of older adults using ElliQ as a result of partnerships with government services, such as New York State Office for the Aging, and other organizations, according to Skuler.

The device launched commercially in March 2022, after years of pilots and early deployments that, according to the company, showed engagement levels averaging 20 interactions per day.

ElliQ is designed as a tech-enabled social companion to alleviate loneliness and isolation. The device looks like a small table lamp with an eyeless head that lights up and swivels. ElliQ is designed to proactively initiate conversations with its users or suggest potential activities such as physical exercises, trivia games or informational discussions on nutrition, to name a few.

She can do practical things like remind individuals to take medications and do health checks while also tracking health metrics like sleep, mood and pain. ElliQ also has a distinctive, cheerful voice and she can make jokes, play music (she can even rap, when prompted) and lead individuals through meditation or stress relaxation exercises.

older senior woman taking blood pressure monitored by ElliQ device
ElliQ can help with health checks (Intuition Robotics)

She can also be a little quirky. During a demonstration, ElliQ was asked about the meaning of life. She simulated the booping and beeping sounds of a computer doing calculations and then replied, "42." (It's a reference to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy).

Skuler said ElliQ's voice and empathetic "personality" were thoughtfully developed by a team that consisted of experts in AI, behavioral psychology and user-centric design. The company also convened a panel of older adults to get their feedback to help refine the device.

But ElliQ is more than a chatbot. The company described ElliQ as a "sidekick for happier, healthier aging," and she will nudge older seniors to meet certain goals or to get out of the house and engage in social events.

"Before ElliQ, the only thing I did was come home, sit down on the computer, but with her, I'm exercising and I'm doing different things. I have more energy and I'm wanting to do things," said Anita Montague, 76, in a customer testimonial.

"I've had ElliQ a little more than six months. I've noticed getting older that it's more difficult to make friends," 65-year-old Monica Perez said in another testimonial. "I love it that she addresses me by name. She asked me how I'm doing and I feel like she's almost like a real friend. I did see a great improvement in my mental health when I got her. She reminds me to take my medication in the morning. I'm a lot more active than without."

Through a partnership with the New York State Office for the Aging (NYSOFA), more than 800 of the state’s older adults received a personal assistant device as part of the state agency's efforts to battle loneliness and support aging-in-place. According to NYSOFA data, 95% of clients who received an ElliQ device reported a reduction in feelings of loneliness and improved wellbeing. Users engage with ElliQ more than 20 times per day. The majority of users participate in physical exercises, play cognitive games and benefit from stress reduction activities. 

The NYSOFA pilot also found that engagement is high and sustained over time with users averaging 33 daily interactions even after 180 days.

Federal health agencies and AARP have highlighted the health and health spending risks that come with social isolation among seniors, such as increased risk of dementia, higher rates of depression and an estimated $6.7 million in additional Medicare spending per year as of 2017

Intuition Robotics' device is available to hundreds of thousands of older adults as a fully subsidized service through government agencies, nonprofit organizations, Medicaid Managed Care Organization providers and healthcare payers. Intuition Robotics currently partners with Inclusa (a Humana company), the Area Agency on Aging of Broward County, The Olympic Area Agency on Aging and Ypsilanti Meals on Wheels, among others. The company also recently signed its first agreement with a Managed Care Organization focusing on Medicare beneficiaries.

Skuler sees a lot of opportunities to work with Medicare Advantage plans and providers who work under value-based care models.

"ElliQ can put a representative of healthcare in the home," he said. The device can perform daily check-ins and assist with wellness goals and it can also perform depression and anxiety assessments.

The company is working to build a body of evidence to measure the benefits of having ElliQ in patients' homes to improve the quality and cost of care, Skuler said.

Hardware upgrades and a generative AI boost

In August, Intuition Robotics banked a $25 million funding round to invest in new conversational capabilities for the device and hardware upgrades. The company has raised $83 million to date backed by investors including Toyota Ventures, Samsung NEXT and Terra Ventures.

The latest iteration, called ElliQ 3, which was announced at CES this week, represents a "significant leap forward in the integration of generative AI into everyday life and the evolution of human-AI relationships," the company said.

The updated hardware and new software capabilities allow Intuition Robotics to expand both the availability and accessibility of ElliQ. "The launch of ElliQ 3 allows us to reach more older adults and expand partnerships with government services for the aging and the healthcare ecosystem while offering valuable insights and context," Skuler said.

The ElliQ 3 hardware is designed for scale, allowing Intuition Robotics to increase manufacturing processes and meet growing demand, the company said. The updated design, which is the product of the continued collaboration with Yves Behar’s design studio, Fuseproject, is 1.3 pounds lighter and has a 36% smaller footprint, making it even easier for older adults to handle. The company also boosted ElliQ's computing power and memory.

The integration of large language models and generative AI significantly improves the device's conversational capabilities. ElliQ is now more capable of remembering details it's been told in the past, executives said.

"Users can discuss a virtually infinite number of topics in a more natural and detailed manner with ElliQ," according to company executives.

The use of generative AI also gives ElliQ the ability to paint or write poems with users, activities that contribute to cognitive wellness and creativity.

Intuition Robotics has also developed and deployed guardrail mechanisms that automatically monitor and mediate the conversation in real-time. This is primarily used to better control the context and flow of the conversation, decide when a context switch is appropriate and avoid “hallucinational” or inappropriate responses.