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New York trials robot companions for 800 elderly people to combat loneliness

Intuition robotics' 'ElliQ' robot is seen at the company's offices in Ramat Gan, central Israel.
Intuition robotics' 'ElliQ' robot is seen at the company's offices in Ramat Gan, central Israel. Copyright AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner
Copyright AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner
By Nicole Chang
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The ElliQ device can carry out daily check-ins with users and remind them to take their medication.


Officials in the US state of New York are offering robot companions to more than 800 senior citizens in a bid to combat social isolation.

The New York State Office for the Aging (NYSOFA) will work with local partners to identify older adults who would most benefit from the technology - a voice-operated smart device known as ElliQ.

The device, which consists of an interactive robot paired with a tablet, will help "foster independence and provide support for older adults," NYSOFA said.

For example, it can carry out daily check-ins, suggest health and wellness tasks such as sleep relaxation and physical exercises, remind users to take their medication, and help them stay in touch with family and friends.

It also "proactively suggests" activities and initiates conversations, using artificial intelligence (AI) to foster a sense of relationship, NYSOFA added.

"Despite misconceptions and generalisations, older adults embrace new technology, especially when they see it is designed by older adults to meet their needs," NYSOFA Director Greg Olsen said in a statement.

"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".

Robot as a 'sidekick for happier ageing'

Produced by Israel-based start-up Intuition Robotics, the ElliQ device is marketed by the company as a "sidekick for healthier, happier ageing". It was launched for commercial sale in March this year.

Researchers are increasingly turning to robots for solutions as cases of social isolation and loneliness rise among older populations.

Such feelings are widespread, with some countries reporting that up to one in three older people feel lonely, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

In Europe, robots have already been trialled in UK care homes in a bid to try and boost mental health and reduce loneliness.

Similarly, a joint EU-Japan project called ACCRA has been developing social robots co-designed by older people, including a mobility robot to help people stay on their feet, and a smaller robot that can interact and engage on a social level.

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