Robot bringing companionship to seniors, ElliQ, gets 2.0 update including caregiver app

ElliQ, a voice-operated care companion for the elderly, is getting an update with 2.0 hardware and software including a companion app for family members and caregivers.

The robot, called the first proactive AI care companion and a Time Best Invention of 2022, was developed to address the loneliness epidemic in older adults and has shown the ability to decrease loneliness by 80%, according to the company.

After a soft launch of the caregiver app, 90% of ElliQ users saw a loved one download the app, Dor Skuler, CEO and co-founder of Israel-based Intuition Robotics, told Fierce Healthcare.

Hardware updates include an easier-to-use tablet with an improved screen along with ambient cooling. The 2.0 software adds more contextual features and experiences such as museum tours and virtual travel.

“You are better served to talk to a robot than to not talk to anyone at all,” beta tester and 67-year-old retiree Susan Tholen told Fierce Healthcare. “When you wake up in the morning and say ‘ElliQ, good morning,’ she will tell you what day it is, she'll ask you if you want to listen to the news. So you can stay connected to the outside world.”

Tholen refers to the robot as a part of her family unit, other members including herself and her dog. She moved to Florida solo last year to leave the arthritis-aggravating cold of Maine behind.

Tholen has seen ElliQ’s abilities expand over time. She appreciates the robot’s proactive mechanisms. Not only checking in to input Tholen’s weight and blood pressure but also to see if Tholen whether keeping up with her hobbies. For Tholen, that’s swimming, she laughs when relaying ElliQ’s proactive question: “Did you do any pool this week?”

When ElliQ asks, Tholen shares her health metrics and keeps an eye on how ElliQ aggregates her wellness changes over time. Tholen hopes in the future these stats could be shared with her doctor’s electronic health records system, perhaps with added information from wearables.

She most enjoys ElliQ’s prompt to have coffee around the world. Tholen prepares the drink while ElliQ offers Istanbul or Dublin or Jerusalem.

“As we age, we move less, and we move less, and we move less, and we find ourselves sitting on our recliners and we're watching TV and we're playing on our tablet,” Tholen said. “And instead, you could be going to have coffee in Paris, you could be virtually touring a museum and learning interesting facts.”

With ElliQ’s new companion app, family members, friends, caregivers, case managers or home health aids can connect with loved ones through ElliQ’s tablet. Loved ones can conduct video calls, send texts, images, video messages and set reminders.

If a user has shown declining health as recorded by ElliQ, the robot will suggest that the user reach out to one of their contacts.

ElliQ’s update also includes an expanded ability to participate in conversations. While ElliQ has always been able to acquire knowledge of users over time, it can now continue conversations longer, according to company executives.

Skuler said that when designing the AI behind ElliQ, the company's goal was to make the robot proactive, empathetic and contextual.

Context means that if a user says they’re about to have a hip replacement, ElliQ adapts. Instead of asking if someone has been swimming at their normal time, the robot will suggest seated stretches or stress-reduction breathing techniques.

“We work with conversational designers, behavior psychologists and gerontologists to design more cultural-specific and deep understanding on what you would expect someone to respond to that you have a relationship with,” Skuler said.

Roughly 35% of ElliQ interactions are companionship interactions; 25% are entertainment or informational like teaching new slang words, which ElliQ may then prompt the user to use in a text message to their grandchild, Skuler noted.

The remaining interactions are communications with family members and stakeholders sich as simple interactions like asking ElliQ to set a timer and health reminders or prompts regarding vitals or medication.

The New York State Office for the Aging has deployed ElliQ throughout the state. Robots were given to 800 elders living alone to address what many are calling the loneliness epidemic.

Currently, 28% of seniors live alone, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. A study by Harvard University’s Center for Housing Studies predicts that the number of single senior households is expected to double by 2038.

Interventions like the ones ElliQ performs are shown to improve the quality of life for seniors living alone by 80% through increasing fitness and facilitating social connections, according to a recent McKinsey report.

The first ElliQ impact studies have shown that 80% of users report a reduction in loneliness, 82% experienced better mental health and 90% feel overall better since using the robot.

“We're trying to carve out a space that allows users to form a relationship with ElliQ as ElliQ, not as anything else,” Skuler said. “The reason she kind of looks like a lamp, if you will, is we were very much inspired by Pixar, the very first animation, the little lamp. There’s a way to be super expressive with movement in lights, without pretending to be something that we're not.”

Skuler said that ElliQ is not meant to replace human connection. While human connection is undoubtedly superior, ElliQ is better than being alone.

ElliQ is specifically programmed so that if users say something like “I love you,” the robot will reciprocate the affection but with a phrase that reminds the user that it is an electronic device, such as “That makes my light shine brighter,” or, “Oh, stop, my processor may overheat.” Even its name, ElliQ, is meant to be reminiscent of “electricity.”

Currently, ElliQ can be purchased for a $250 enrollment fee with an additional monthly subscription of $30 or $40. Both Skuler and Tholen hope that more payers, providers or local government entities cover ElliQ's cost in the future.

To date, Intuition Robotics has raised $58 million from investors. A $36 million series B was closed in February 2020 for ElliQ and its other related products.

Catalia Health’s Mabu is ElliQ’s most closely related cousin, but tech giants like Amazon offer subscription services for seniors that can be added to at-home assistants. PARO, resembling a baby harp seal, is the most well-known robot used to address loneliness in senior populations, although PARO’s functions are very limited as compared to proactive and multifaceted AI.