and videos sent by family members, and reminds them of
things like doctors’ appointments and when to take medications. It will also spontaneously suggest activities like going
for a walk or playing a trivia game to break up long periods
ElliQ doesn’t look like a robot at all. Mounted on a console
next to a tablet computer, which is included, it more closely
resembles a deconstructed smart speaker, like Amazon’s
Echo. The two segments of its “body” tilt and swivel, but
that’s as much as it moves. Yves Béhar, who designed it, says
the company decided early on against making a robot that
would “follow someone around being creepy.” Instead, says
Béhar, the design mind behind products like the Jawbone
fitness tracker and the SodaStream seltzermaker, the goal
was to make something that fit into the decor. “We wanted
it to look like a friendly home object,” he says.
With no facial features, ElliQ inflects its speech through
a pared-down gestural vocabulary that evokes human body
language without reproducing it to give “a sense of emotion,”
says Béhar. His inspiration: the anthropomorphic desk lamp
that announces the beginning of
Despite its deliberately sim-
plified exterior, ElliQ’s innards
are packed with artificial intelli-
gence algorithms whose purpose
is to help it anticipate an owner’s
needs and understand his or
her wishes. For instance, ElliQ
adjusts its speech patterns over
time according to which verbal
styles elicit the best responses—
becoming more assertive or more ingratiating. “Instead of
our learning to talk to technology, technology should learn to
talk to us,” says Dor Skuler, the founder and CEO of Intuition
Robotics, which has raised $22 million in venture capital.
After launching and selling a string of telecommunications and cloud-computing startups, Skuler—a veteran
of Unit 8200, Israel’s elite signals-intelligence force and de
facto startup organization—wanted his next venture to be
something with positive social impact. When he looked at
tech for seniors, he saw a lot of products aimed at ameliorating the effects of disability or disease but few for healthy
people wanting to live fuller lives. ElliQ users can opt into
features like medication compliance and wellness monitoring, but those are secondary. The robot’s primary selling
point is that it allows older adults living on their own to feel
connected to the greater world.
Intuition hopes to start selling ElliQ this year, with units
priced “at the high end of consumer electronics,” Skuler says.
To fine-tune the product for launch, the company is conducting beta tests with users in the San Francisco Bay Area and
Celebration, Florida. One of the most common requests testers
are making of their robots: getting the president’s tweets read
aloud to them. Grandkids, you’re welcome.
“Instead of our learning to talk to technology, technology should learn to talk to us.”
Designed by researchers from several
European countries and currently available
in Europe, this “safe and handy human
helper” moves around on its own power
and can manipulate objects—though
you can also replace one of its arms with
a drink tray. Compared with its predecessors, the current, fourth iteration of
Care-o-Bot is friendlier in its expressions
A demographic imbalance of too many
retirees and not enough young workers
has pushed Japan to explore robots as
care providers. The ursine-faced Robear,
created by the national research institute
Riken, is a cybernetic nursing aide, a
gentle giant strong enough to lift patients
out of bed without injuring them.
Buddy and Yumii
Developed by France’s Blue Frog Robotics,
Buddy is similar to ElliQ, an interactive
companion and communications assistant. Equipped with wheels, it can also
patrol its owner’s home and alert emergency personnel to falls or other events.
Another French-made robot, Yumii
by Cutii, offers similar capabilities and
is available by subscription.
Grandma’s Little Helpers ElliQ isn’t the only new robot promising to address the needs of the elderly. Here are some other offerings from around the world.
For Japan’s aging population, robots such as
Robear will become essential to providing care.
Robear can identify and lift a person weighing
as much as 180 pounds. A telescopic wheel
mechanism prevents the robot from toppling
over when hoisting.