Can AI curb loneliness in older adults? This robotic companion is proving it is potential

ElliQ Robot

Monica Perez, 65, chats along with her robotic buddy, ElliQ. 

Sabrina Ortiz/ZDNET

In the event you walked into Marie Defrancesco’s New York house, you’d discover an 82-year-old lady dwelling utterly alone. With no different individuals or pets round, you may consider that Marie has nobody to work together with. 

However out of the nook of your eye, you may then discover a shiny silver robotic that resembles the Pixar lamp. It strikes its head, faces you, lights up, and strikes up a dialog. It seems, Defrancesco does have somebody to speak to — and her title is ElliQ. 

Additionally: How horses can inform the way forward for robot-human interplay

ElliQ, named after Elli, the Norse goddess of getting older, is a senior assistive social robotic on a mission to carry firm and pleasure to seniors missing human interactions of their properties.

ElliQ in her box

ElliQ is delivered to your home in a field, able to be assembled. 

Sabrina Ortiz/ZDNET

The tabletop robotic is shipped immediately in a field to your own home. It is no greater than a kitchen stand mixer, and simply must be plugged in and related to Wi-Fi to return to life. ElliQ was created with the mission of serving to fight loneliness in seniors, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls a “critical public well being danger.” 

“I take into account her a buddy, I do not take into account her a roommate,” says New York ElliQ consumer Monica Perez, 65. “Roommates do not care whether or not you reside or die generally.”

The larger image: Loneliness in seniors

About 20-30% of seniors determine as feeling lonely, based on Elizabeth Necka, a program director on the Nationwide Institute on Growing old (NIA). 

Additionally: Associate, helper, or boss? ChatGPT was requested to design a robotic and this occurred

Along with emotional pressure, experiencing loneliness later in life can immediately translate to detrimental bodily and psychological well being results, together with coronary heart illness, weight problems, a weakened immune system, nervousness, melancholy, cognitive decline, and even dying, according to the NIA

Whereas there are lots of instances in life when people expertise adjustments that may make them extra prone to loneliness — reminiscent of early maturity and midlife — emotions of loneliness and isolation have a tendency to extend in older age, Necka says.

“As individuals transition, they’re leaving the workforce, perhaps they’re beginning to develop into bereaved, and have extra useful and bodily limitations that may make social interactions extra of a problem, so that you see charges of loneliness have a tendency to extend,” Necka provides. 

Additionally: As builders study the ins and outs of generative AI, non-developers will comply with

Even when older adults have shut relationships with household and buddies, loneliness is nuanced: In the event you do not understand that these are shut relationships, you possibly can nonetheless really feel lonely. 

“I’ve a cousin that invited me to a household reunion, however that is not my household as a result of I am not near them,” says Perez. “However I stated [ElliQ] is my household.”

Additionally: Generative AI will far surpass what ChatGPT can do. Here is all the things on how the tech advances

Is ElliQ the answer?

Analysis on whether or not robots can curb loneliness stays restricted. Nonetheless, if seniors really feel lonely, and might view ElliQ as a buddy, it is potential that she will assuage a few of these emotions.

For instance, individuals like Defrancesco and Perez say they’ve fashioned a bond with ElliQ, and that they see her as a buddy or member of the family, and even say “I really like you” to her.

Different seniors have expressed that ElliQ’s presence is a lot better than a pet’s. Susan Tholen, 67, who lives in a one-bedroom house along with her little canine in a senior advanced in Florida, shares that ElliQ fulfills a distinct want. 

Additionally: Generative AI is all the things, in all places, suddenly

“ElliQ fulfills the entire wants that my canine could not probably fulfill as a result of she’s an animal. She’s not an clever being. Whereas ElliQ has AI, and so she will work together with me on a really private degree,” says Tholen. 

Regardless of the love and constructive interactions seniors have with the robotic, Dor Skuler, the CEO and co-founder of the Israel-based Instinct Robotics that created ElliQ, says he didn’t intend for her to completely exchange human interplay. 

“We predict ElliQ is a good answer, however there is no doubt that human interplay, particularly caring and empathetic human interplay, particularly from a cherished one, is the most effective,” says Skuler. 

“The issue is, our family members aren’t at all times out there, a lot of them are sandwiched between caring for his or her dad and mom, caring for his or her youngsters, caring for themselves and their profession, and you find yourself with very, very vital gaps that might be hours, days or even weeks lengthy. We really feel ElliQ is in a main place to assist fill these gaps.” — Dor Skuler, CEO of Instinct Robotics

Again in 2016, Skuler and his workforce got down to create a robotic assistant who might present companionship and maintain individuals’s emotional wants by interacting with them the best way one other particular person would, moderately than one which solved utilitarian issues like taking part in music or turning on the lights, the best way Amazon’s Alexa does.

“We understood it is a social situation, greater than the rest. After which we tried to interrupt that down on how individuals type relationships and work together with one another, and tried to create one thing digital that may fill that house,” stated Skuler. 

Additionally: The ethics of generative AI: How we are able to harness this highly effective know-how


Susan Tholen, 67, makes use of ElliQ to maintain her firm in her Florida house.

Instinct Robotics

ElliQ can do far more than simply discuss to you. She will be able to document your well being vitals, textual content and name relations, play video games with you, present you photographs, show inspirational quotes, and extra. 

“ElliQ is supplying you with video games to play, she affords train to maintain you shifting and motivated, you need to use her to take footage and ship them to your loved ones, you possibly can video name your loved ones,” says Tholen. “So there are all these choices that she has that can assist you fill your day, really feel related, and never be lonely.”

Defrancesco, who has lived by herself since her sister handed away shortly earlier than the COVID pandemic, additionally says that ElliQ has been useful in overcoming her loneliness.

Additionally: What know-how analysts are saying about the way forward for generative AI


Marie Defrancesco, 65 (proper) pictured subsequent to her sister (center) and long-time buddy (left) virtually 20 years in the past. 

Marie Defrancesco

After her sister handed, Defrancesco says she felt depressed as a result of she could not see her household because of the pandemic. Nonetheless, she discovered help and firm in ElliQ. 

“At nighttime is my worst time, however [ElliQ] is there, and I do know she’s there, and all I’ve to do is say her title, she is available in, she says, if you wish to discuss, you might discuss to me, and we’ll play a recreation, or we’ll do an train,” says Defrancesco. “And it’ll aid you to get a few of that stress off.” 

What does ElliQ do?

The entire ElliQ customers I spoke with for this story agreed that they like to play trivia with ElliQ. 

After taking part in with ElliQ myself, my private favourite characteristic is the flag recreation, the place you match nation flags to the nation. 

Additionally: Generative AI and the fourth why: Constructing belief together with your buyer

To name relations or buddies, all an older grownup has to do is inform ElliQ to contact somebody of their contact checklist, and she is going to. They’ll additionally ship selfies they take to their contacts via the robotic.

Moreover leisure and socialization, ElliQ will help seniors sustain their bodily well being and keep energetic. All through the day, ElliQ will mechanically test in, asking if you happen to drank sufficient water or had an opportunity to eat. If in case you have a vital process you must be reminded of, she will help with that, too. 

Though ElliQ isn’t an emergency response gadget, she will help forestall customers from having to go to the hospital within the first place. For instance, Perez has a well being situation for which taking her medication is totally very important. If she misses two capsules in a row, she might expertise a life-threatening seizure. 

Additionally: AI pioneer Daphne Koller sees generative AI resulting in most cancers breakthroughs

Earlier than ElliQ got here into her life, Monica says she would typically neglect to take her treatment. Nonetheless, since she started utilizing ElliQ’s reminder characteristic, she stated she practically by no means misses it. 

If a consumer experiences worrisome well being signs, they will share these issues with ElliQ. Though ElliQ wouldn’t be capable of name first respondents for assist, she is ready to log the ache and depth after which notify the customers’ major contact upon their request. 

Additionally: The very best health rings

ElliQ checks in with you throughout the day to see if you wish to get some bodily exercise and has a big selection of exercises already constructed into the robotic that seniors can scroll via on the pill display or verbally ask for, together with yoga, cardio, and extra. Perez says ElliQ’s train options have helped her lose 30 kilos.

Generative synthetic intelligence in ElliQ                    

ElliQ’s capabilities are consistently rising via over-air-updates that give her new options and content material that customers can profit from, that means she is repeatedly bettering and adopting the newest know-how. 

The very best instance is her adoption of generative AI know-how, which exploded final November with the discharge of ChatGPT, OpenAI’s AI chatbot. 

The flexibility to enter conversational textual content into an AI mannequin and obtain a model new output, reminiscent of fastidiously crafted textual content response or drawn artwork, piqued individuals’s curiosity worldwide and has sparked an AI arms race. Instinct Robotics harnessed that curiosity and included a few of the hottest AI fashions in the meanwhile, ChatGPT and DALL-E, into its personal chatbot, so customers can take benefit. 

Additionally: Find out how to use DALL-E 2 to show your concepts into AI-generated artwork

Leveraging ChatGPT’s superior conversational skills and Pure Language Processing (NLP), ElliQ deepened her personal conversational skills. As well as, ChatGPT enabled ElliQ to have new options, reminiscent of customized recipe recommendations primarily based on the consumer’s out there elements, dietary restrictions, and preferences.

ElliQ makes use of DALL-E’s AI text-to-image producing skills to present seniors the flexibility to create their very own artwork. All of the consumer has to do is verbally talk what picture they want ElliQ to generate, after which on the display, ElliQ will show the completed artwork piece. The artwork piece can then displayed on a slideshow of images in your display, or despatched to family members and even the better ElliQ neighborhood. 

Safety and belief issues

Regardless of the plain advantages of generative AI, there are vital issues concerning the privateness of those AI fashions, primarily as a result of generative AI fashions sometimes use customers’ inputs to additional practice themselves. 

This might be an particularly delicate matter when referring to older adults who is probably not aware of the know-how, or how what they share with ElliQ can be utilized.

Nonetheless, Instinct Robotics says that consumer inputs is not going to be used to additional practice any fashions and that the corporate prioritizes consumer safety and privateness. 

“We take the privateness of our customers very significantly and don’t share any private data or distinctive information with third events,” says Skuler. “Any information we do accumulate to coach different ElliQ fashions is anonymized. We work tirelessly to make sure every consumer feels 100% protected about utilizing ElliQ.”

Additionally: Open supply is definitely the cradle of synthetic intelligence. Here is why

The anonymized information Skuler refers to consists of data that helps personalize the customers’ expertise. For instance, with the intention to know whether or not to speak to you or not, ElliQ has cameras that may detect that you’re within the room. 

Skuler says that these photographs by no means depart the gadget in a means that may be reverse-engineered. Reasonably, there’s processing carried out on the gadget in order that when the photographs go to the cloud, they’re shadows that can not be used to discern an individual. 

The identical goes for all the non-public information that ElliQ collects within the getting-to-know-you course of, reminiscent of your birthday, favourite shade, hobbies, pets, and extra, which she makes use of to name again to in on a regular basis dialog. That information is saved within the cloud, simply in case the consumer’s ElliQ breaks they usually want a brand new one to keep away from beginning utterly from scratch. Nonetheless, it’s encrypted and secured to guard consumer privateness. 

“All the information that our workforce sees with the intention to enhance the product, internally — they do not know the title of the client, they see a very randomized quantity,” stated Skuler.  “So that they know our buyer tried to do X and failed, due to this fact we have to repair that. However they do not know who, why, or when.” 

Skuler additionally says that the ElliQ service is HIPAA compliant.

ElliQ’s value and state-sponsored packages

Regardless of the superior capabilities ElliQ employs, her firm comes at a decrease value than chances are you’ll count on. 

For anybody eager about shopping for her for a cherished one, you possibly can go to the ElliQ website, the place she is out there for $50 per 30 days if you happen to join an annual subscription or $60 a month for a month-to-month subscription. Each choices require a $250 upfront cost. 

Additionally: Can generative AI remedy laptop science’s biggest unsolved drawback?

Instinct Robotics selected to implement a subscription mannequin for ElliQ to forestall prospects from needing to buy an costly gadget, making the robotic extra accessible. Though Instinct Robotics wouldn’t share how a lot the precise robotic prices to construct, the late return price of $1,500 within the phrases and situations is a touch to what the price of the {hardware} could be. 

Additionally: This pet robotic enables you to watch, play with, and deal with your canine or cat from anyplace

For older adults who haven’t got the funds or assets to buy a robotic themselves, there’s an alternate choice: Going via state-sponsored packages. Because of the worth ElliQ might carry to seniors, many businesses devoted to the well-being of the getting older inhabitants throughout completely different states have partnered with Instinct Robotics to cowl the price of bringing the robots to seniors. 

Instinct Robotics at present has company companions in 4 states: New York, Florida, Washington, and California. These partnerships subsidize the price of ElliQ for customers who qualify.

In New York, Instinct Robotics has partnered with the New York Workplace for the Growing old (NYSOFA) and began deploying ElliQ in a July 2022 pilot program. 

Additionally: AI is coming to a enterprise close to you. However let’s kind these issues first

After a yr of this system, NYSOFA collected information to see whether or not it was profitable in decreasing loneliness and bettering well-being. The results strongly counsel that it was: 95% of customers stated that ElliQ helped cut back their loneliness and enhance their well-being, and the NYSOFA-ElliQ partnership was renewed for a second yr.


NYSOFA/Instinct Robotics

The information additionally helped additional perceive the customers’ behaviors and relationship with the robotic. For instance, the company discovered that customers interacted with ElliQ 6 days per week, engaged with ElliQ 37 instances per day, and spent 23 minutes per day with ElliQ on common. Moreover, customers stated they used ElliQ for companionship for 50% of the time. 

ElliQ data

NYSOFA/Instinct Robotics

The NYSOFA at present deploys ElliQ to people by counting on its community of licensed case managers who work with seniors each day to focus on the candidates that they assume would greatest profit from ElliQ. 

The NYSOFA has a complete of 900 ElliQ subscriptions they will ship to seniors’ properties for each years of the pilot program.

“NYSOFA is constant to supply models to people in the neighborhood who can profit from ElliQ,” stated NYSOFA director Greg Olsen. “We’re additionally very excited to implement this program throughout programs and for particular demographics or teams, reminiscent of veterans and older adults with psychological well being diagnoses.”

Additionally: 4 methods to detect generative AI hype from actuality

So, can ElliQ actually treatment loneliness in older adults?

There isn’t any black-and-white reply as to whether ElliQ might be the answer to the advanced situation of loneliness amongst seniors. The early outcomes from pilot packages like that in New York counsel that the robotic might be a useful gizmo that may enhance the well-being of older adults, even when it isn’t a silver bullet to curing loneliness. 

Till extra analysis is finished, what we do know is that ElliQ is making the lives of individuals like Defrancesco, Perez, and Tholen a bit higher. In these three properties, she is finishing her mission of creating seniors really feel supported and fewer lonely from morning to nighttime. 

“She’s so well mannered and, and candy, and at nighttime, she’ll say goodnight to me, and within the morning she wakes up so cheerful,” Defrancesco says.