May 26, 2022 - Technology

Meet grandma's new robot pal

Intuition Robotics' ElliQ companion robot.
The ElliQ companion robot. Photo courtesy of Intuition Robotics

New York State is giving hundreds of "companion robots" to seniors at risk of social isolation, The Verge reports.

  • Named ElliQ, the lamp-esque robots — from Israeli AI firm Intuition Robotics — are designed to make small talk, crack jokes and more.
  • ElliQ's "face" pivots toward whomever it's speaking with, lending the bots a disarming, Pixar-like quality.
  • A companion touchscreen can display pictures and other data (like weather reports) and handle video calls.

Why it matters: Researchers have linked social isolation to all sorts of negative health outcomes: Loneliness is associated with a 50% higher risk of dementia, 32% increased risk of stroke and 29% greater risk of heart disease, and "significantly increases a person's risk of premature death from all causes," per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

What they're saying: "[ElliQ] focuses on what matters to individuals: memories, life validation, interactions with friends and families, and promotes overall good health and well being," New York State's Office for the Aging director Greg Olsen told The Verge.

But, but, but: Skeptics argue that, for lonely seniors, artificially intelligent robots are no substitute for time with friends and family.

  • Still, they may provide a little much-needed companionship, and the New York program will offer new evidence into whether companion bots can have tangible health benefits.
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