Call Your Grandma or New York State Might Assign a Robot To Her
The COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns made the country and world a lonelier place. For longer than a year, many were not able to see friends and family out of concern for our health and theirs. Holidays alone, birthdays alone, milestones alone – it forced us to find new ways of connecting. From Zoom calls and Netflix in-app watch parties, all the way up to wi-fi connected fitness machines.
As we exit that phase of history, we’ve come away with new tools and tech that can help combat loneliness in America’s senior citizen population. That’s why New York State is using an intriguing, unlikely new partner for our elderly: robots.
Reported by Business Insider, New York is the first state government to partner with ElliQ, an artificial intelligence robot especially for seniors designed by Israeli tech company Intuition Robotics. Before you start picturing Robin Williams in Bicentennial Man, know that ElliQ is not a humanoid robot. It’s based on a flat pedestal with a large bulb-like lamp containing a microphone and speaker paired with a touchscreen tablet with a webcam to the side.
ElliQ is billed as an empathetic robot with an actual personality. Each device gives some gentle prodding and ideas for physical activity, has relaxation exercises, can give medication reminders, play music, and connect with family and friends via the microphone, camera, and touchscreen.
The New York State Office for the Aging has ordered 800 initial ElliQ units for distribution after the AI companion only became commercially available in March. NYSOFA director Greg Olsen released a statement praising the new technology:
"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."
To be eligible for this round, seniors must be nominated by their NYSOFA case worker.