Intuition Robotics has been working on its ElliQ “proactive social robot for older adults” for only a few years—the company, founded in 2016, has managed to secure funding from Toyota AI Ventures, Samsung, and iRobot, among others. For nearly a year, Intuition has been testing ElliQ in the homes of beta testers aged 62-97 in the San Francisco Bay Area, and things have apparently gone well enough that they’ve decided that the robot is ready to go on sale.
If you’re wondering what ElliQ actually does, the website is a bit more informative, but not much:
ElliQ is specially designed with and for older adults to give them everything they need to stay sharp, connected and engaged. Interacting with ElliQ and the world is easy and fun, and through AI she becomes even more helpful by learning what you like and need.
ElliQ enables family members to easily check-in with you and help with the day-to-day, creating more quality time together wherever you live.
ElliQ suggests personalized activities at the right time, keeping you sharp, active and engaged. As you start to get to know ElliQ, she gets to know you and her suggestions grow better tailored to what you might want.
ElliQ responds to you—to your voice, to your gaze, even to your touch—in ways that go beyond speech. Her body language intuitively helps you understand and communicate at a deeper level.
However, beta users do seem to appreciate what the robot does:
The interesting thing about this is how much of a difference it makes that ElliQ has embodiment, since otherwise it’s just a tablet with good audio and a nice camera. A physical, moving presence certainly appears to enhance the robot’s effectiveness, but the question with ElliQ is whether, as a social home robot, it will be able to find success where others, so far, have not. I’m a little bit more optimistic about ElliQ because it’s targeting a very specific audience and performing a relatively specific task, and Intuition Robotics has done a reasonable job of keeping expectations in line with that. ElliQ is called a “sidekick” rather than a friend or family member, and while the videos (as with all consumer robot videos) show best-case performance, they don’t strike me as unreasonable.
ElliQ can be pre-ordered for US $1500, and should ship this summer. To bribe you, pre-orders include $600 worth of waived subscription fees, which are otherwise $35 to $50 per month, “depending on the tier of service chosen by the customer.” Generally, the subscription covers “unlimited access to a library of curated content, software updates, phone support and wellness monitoring features in the accompanying app,” which seems a little bit steep to me, so I’m assuming that the subscription cost is subsidizing the hardware, although that seems a little bit steep too. It depends, I suppose, on how frequent updates are, and what they entail—if ElliQ gets (say) weekly, personalized content, then perhaps the fee is more easily justified. The other thing that’s worth mentioning is that once your ElliQ arrives, you only get a 30-day window in which to return it. This isn’t very long, considering that one of the most significant issues with social robots is consumer burnout after just a month or two, once their novelty wears off.
The first batch of ElliQ robots are destined for the Center for Aging and Brain Health Innovation, in Toronto, where a team of doctors, scientists, and caregivers will “conduct an in-depth research study with 100 older adults to test the extent to which ElliQ will decrease the feeling of loneliness and social isolation among older adults.” We’ll be very interested to see what the results of that study are.