New York program will provide companion robot ElliQ to hundreds of isolated seniors

Isolated seniors across New York will soon receive medication reminders, wellness suggestions and friendly conversations from a “proactive and empathetic” in-home artificial intelligence, thanks to a newly announced partnership between the New York State Office for the Aging (NYSOFA) and tech startup Intuition Robotics.

The deal will see more than 800 of the state’s older adults getting a care companion in the form of ElliQ, the tech startup’s countertop personal assistant designed to increase seniors’ independence and keep them socially active.

Through voice commands, emotive gestures or its paired tablet screen, seniors can use the device to initiate video calls, send messages, schedule appointments and receive medication reminders.

Unlike other consumer personal assistants, however, ElliQ is designed to proactively initiate conversations with its users or suggest potential activities such as physical exercises, trivia games, sleep relaxation exercises or informational discussions on nutrition, to name a few.

“Despite misconceptions and generalizations, older adults embrace new technology, especially when they see it is designed by older adults to meet their needs,” said Greg Olsen, director of NYSOFA, in a statement. “For those who experience some form of isolation and wish to age in place, ElliQ is a powerful complement to traditional forms of social interaction and support from professional or family caregivers.”

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. Former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, M.D., took to the media in 2017 to declare social isolation a “global epidemic” and, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, reiterated his call to action in 2021.

A representative for Intuition Robotics said the program will kick off with a May 31 informational webinar for the state’s case managers, after which they can begin nominating seniors who they believe will benefit most from having ElliQ in their homes.

The device launched commercially in March, normally selling to consumers for an upfront payment of $250 and a $30 to $40 per month subscription fee. This came after years of pilots and early deployments that, according to the company, showed engagement levels averaging 20 interactions per day.

Israel-based Intuition Robotics has raised $58 million to date from investors, most recently closing a $36 million series B in February 2020 for ElliQ and its other work developing digital assistants for use inside of a motor vehicle.

The new program with NYSOFA represents Intuition Robotics’ first partnership with a state government, a direction CEO and co-founder Dor Skuler said is a strategic focus for the startup.

"Yes, we are actively pursuing partnerships with other state governments and public sector partners,” he told Fierce Healthcare in an emailed statement. “Many seniors live on a fixed income, so having state or federal programs to help alleviate loneliness is crucial in order to get ElliQ into the hands of seniors who can benefit from the technology. We're thrilled to have New York State as our first partner and we look forward to creating more partnerships down the line.”

New York’s statewide budget for fiscal year 2023 includes $2.9 million in funding for NYSOFA programs targeting isolation or other aging issues, according to the announcement. Other programs launched by the agency include robotic companion pets designed to resemble and emulate the behaviors of live pets, ride-sharing services for older adults and other support services.

Outside of senior-first companions like ElliQ or Catalia Health’s Mabu, big tech names like Amazon have released subscription offerings of their well-known personal assistants that are tailored to remote monitoring services for seniors. Payers and employers across the country have also dipped their toes into tech-enabled services like Papa that match seniors with younger caregivers who socialize and help out with in-home tasks.